Trumbull 'farm girls' win big at Durham Fair

At first glance the five Trumbull High students who brought home awards from the Durham Fair last week seem like typical teenage girls, chatting excitedly about reality television programs and their post-graduation plans. But a closer look reveals boots scuffed and worn from physical outdoor work, and jeans chosen more for durability than style. And their handshakes will definitely get your attention.

The five, and their teacher Melissa Cunningham, won numerous ribbons at Durham for their livestock, most of them raised at the Trumbull Agriscience Center adjacent to Trumbull High School. Students at the regional program attend Trumbull High, but also spend hours each day doing farm work — the farm is exclusively student-run.

“The animals need care every day,” said Sam Yankocy of Easton, a senior. “This year, I had farm duty on Christmas morning, and I still got back home before the rest of the family was awake.”

Some of the students in the program, like Margaret Brady, also of Easton, have farming backgrounds. The others are there because they realized at an early age that animal care was something they were drawn to.

“My grandfather’s from the Midwest, and I would visit and ride horses and play with cows,” said Trumbull senior Valerie Rakoczy, who plans to study animal science in college. “Then I started visiting [the Agriscience Center] farm and I thought, shoot, I can do this.”

Kaitlyn Marcinko of Shelton said she developed a love of animal care riding horses at Girl Scout camp.

“Then I learned this place was here, and it was something I could do,” she said.

Maddie Buzzeo, a senior from Trumbull, said work on the farm had altered her career aspirations slightly. She still wants a medical career, but in a zoo rather than a hospital.

“In middle school, I wanted to be a doctor, but working with the animals is a kind of bliss,” she said. “They’re just cute.”

Of course, animal care isn’t all cuteness and cuddling. Brady said Sequoia, her award-winning holstein cow, requires nearly 40 pounds of feed each day, in addition to almost constant grazing. Sequoia produces (among other things) an average of about 90 pounds of milk each day.

Rakoczy casually described one aspect of animal care that is not for delicate sensibilities. It involved the center’s 300-pound ewe that Marcinko describes as “like a puppy that says, ‘baa.’”

“I had to reach inside her up to my elbow,” Rakoczy said. “Things like that just become something you do.”

For the fair, the animals were groomed to the nines, and the girls made the hour-long drive in the predawn hours to make sure they were fed and washed before judging. Then, if there was time, came a fair food breakfast before they returned to the barn.

“Animals eat first,” Brady said.

The attention paid off though, with Sweet Pea and Sequoia winning Grand Champion ribbons. Buzzeo and Rakoczy won fun awards in the animal fashion and comedy contests. Marcinko took home second and third place awards in the cow and sheep competitions.

Most of the girls see animal care or agriculture as their life’s work, but even if they don’t, the Agriscience Center provided valuable experience, including a palpable comfort with themselves.

“We know we’re different from typical high school kids,” said Rakoczy.

But they’re fine with it. Whether it’s Marcinko and Brady decorating their cars with sheep and Holstein patterns, or the group barely noticing changes in weather that send other students running for cover, the five know they’re different, and they’re OK with other people knowing it too. In fact, they want you to know, Buzzeo said.

“If you look at my Facebook page, it’s all sheep photos,” she said.