By David Anderson Jr.
Published June 27, 2008
Rolling wheat fields dance gracefully with every fresh breath of a spring breeze. Lines of densely-packed corn stand tall like soldiers on parade. Nearby, majestic horses playfully gallop together, exploring the far edges of their fenced-in kingdom, as the setting sun splashes a myriad of purple and orange hues on their velvety backs.
For many Johnston County natives, a scene like this is nothing unusual. Many can simply look out the kitchen window (sweet tea in hand) and admire the signs of a vibrant community rich in agricultural heritage. Some may even take these things for granted, unable to imagine any lifestyle offering the same joy as that of the farmer.
For many children born and raised in our state’s growing cities, however, a landscape like this can seem as foreign as anywhere on Earth. One Benson couple, along with their daughter, a few eager grandchildren and some friends, are hoping to change that.
Last Saturday, Ron and Sharon Lunn opened their home, as well as their barn, to a group of nearly 30 young people who call Raleigh’s inner-city neighborhoods home. The children, brought to Johnston County by volunteers from the Abundant Life Christian Center in Raleigh, were given a unique opportunity to learn about horsemanship, livestock management and traditional farming techniques.
“Hello, Ron Wayne,” Charnae Rogers, assistant outreach director for the church, affectionately calls out to Mr. Lunn.
Ms. Rogers, optimistic about the promise the day holds, describes her hope for the outing.
“Just to be able to give the kids a change in scenery, a different scenery and to let them know there are people who care,” she said.
Behind her, children participating in the church’s program pour out of two vans, exploring the small-scale ranch with a little apprehension.
“I want to ride a horse,” said Zyaire Smith, 7, after seeing the Lunns’ miniature horse, Lucy.
After denying Lucy a Rice Krispies treat offered to some of the other animals, Chris Kelley, a friend of the Lunns, explains to the crowd that Lucy is on a strict diet, being nearly 200 pounds overweight.
Mr. Kelley, along with his wife Cheryl Orlowski, came from Peachland, N.C., to help with the day’s activities. The couple raises donkeys on their own ranch and have experienced hosting similar events.
“We had 22 kids out at our place in the fall, and Ron and Sharon came to help us with that,” Mr. Kelley said. “I guess that was training for this.”
While horseback riding — a new experience for nearly all of the youth participating — is certainly the highlight of the day, Mr. Lunn hopes to educate the group on practices necessary to keep healthy livestock, such as shoeing horses, grooming the animals and selecting the right type of feed for each individual horse.
Jake, the Lunns’ oldest horse, requires a soft blend of alfalfa hay that Mr. Lunn breaks up by hand. Zak, a registered Arab, and Jessie, a wild-caught mustang, are less picky with their diet, happily snacking on a blend of dry and sweet feed.
Mr. Lunn takes time to demonstrate different brushing techniques outside, allowing the animals’ hair to fall freely to the ground.
“It helps the local ecology,” he says, pointing out a perfectly-formed birds’ nest made entirely of horse hair. “Other animals are able to use what we have.”
Leaning up against a row of aged fence posts, some of Mr. Lunn’s farming equipment is set up for the kids to see and use. The display, including signs with printed names and descriptions of each tool, resembles a museum exhibit. He says that although most kids today don’t have the opportunity to use aerators, thatchers, seed spreaders or harrows, it is important to know how food bought at the grocery store is grown.
“We’re hoping to make a difference in the lives of these kids,” Mr. Lunn said. “Even if we just help one, it’s worth it.”
Mr. Lunn says his daughter, Heather Conley of Angier, is really the mastermind behind the event.
“If there are some that are really into it, not just with the church, then Ron and Sharon told them they’re welcome to come out anytime,” Mrs. Conley said.
The Lunns received support for the event not just from family and friends, but from the community as well. A local grocery store donated hot dogs, snacks and drinks for the children’s lunch.
Wanda Spell, outreach director for the church, has scheduled three more outings at the Lunns’ ranch this summer. Next time, she hopes to bring her entire group — about 67 children.
In addition to activities like the Lunns sponsor, Ms. Spell’s group, T.A.S.K. Force, or Take A Stand for our Kids, teaches children to practice gang resistance, encourages abstinence, conducts etiquette training and holds tutoring sessions for students.
“You see so many things going on with our young people, with sex, drugs and violence; you wouldn’t believe some of the places we get kids from,” Ms. Spell said. “We’re just trying to do our part. I know we can’t reach everyone, but we’re trying to do our part.”
Text and images copyright 2008 by The Record Publishing Company.
Used with permission.