PIERPONT — Sydney Hemwall knows chickens.
The Gentry Middle School sixth-grader can tell you the difference between an Old English game hen and a golden sebright. She has no qualms about scooping up an agitated hen and holding it firmly until the flustered bird grows calm in her confident grasp.
Hemwall’s parents started their family farm five years ago in Pierpont to practice sustainable agriculture using organic methods and to give their two daughters the opportunity to grow up in a more natural environment. Sydney says she feels lucky to live in such a beautiful setting and knows that many 11-year-old girls would give anything to have their own horse like she does.
At the same time, farm living gives Hemwall more responsibilities than many of her peers. Sydney and her sister are charged with feeding the chickens, collecting their eggs, picking vegetables and helping to weed the long rows of produce plants.
“All I know is that just mainly if you’re going to be organic growing,” Hemwall says with a sigh, “there’s going to be a lot of weeding.”
Sydney also helps out at the cash register when her parents sell produce at the Columbia Farmers' Market at the Activity and Recreation Center on West Ash Street and when the farm’s Community Sustainable Agriculture subscribers come to pick up their weekly allotment of produce.
The responsibilities involved in taking care of a working farm also mean that it’s not always easy for the family to get away for vacations. Hemwall spoke excitedly about a recent trip to St. Louis to visit Six Flags amusement park with a full awareness of how much planning was required to leave the farm even just for a day.
“I like it here,” she said of her pastoral home, “but sometimes it’s really nice to have a change of scenery.”
While some Columbia middle schoolers would be hard pressed to imagine spending $50 of their own birthday money on a new flock of chickens — as Hemwall once did — in other ways her concerns aren’t all that different from those of children who live closer to town. She loves roller coasters, is a whiz at finding interesting trivia on the Internet and hates how gossipy school is becoming as she inches closer to being a teenager.
“School can actually be very, very dramatic, and I wish it wouldn’t be that way because it gets kind of annoying,” she complained, “especially when everybody’s got to know whose boyfriend is whose.”