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At home in 4-H, family discovers joys of rural life after years as city dwellers

When the Mandrell family -- Scott and Carla and their children Terra, Sarah, Joshua and Josiah -- walked into the Beltrami County Fairgrounds for the first time five years ago, they knew they had arrived where they belonged.

The family had lived and grown up in the Twin Cities suburb of Mounds View. Scott inherited a piece of his late grandfather Otis Mandrell's farm in Northern Township and the family made the moved they had looked forward to in November 2000.

"He'd been waiting 10 years to get his kids out of the city," said Carla. "He grew up on the farm."

The family was quick to list the advantages of rural life.

"They've been able to have the animals," Carla said, as dogs Little Bear, Nutmeg and Blue and chickens swirled around the yard. "Probably the first thing that changed is dogs."

"Go-karts," said Joshua, 12. "And a bigger shop."

"Tree house," said Josiah, 10.

"Garden," said Terra, 21. "And Sarah (20) has a horse."

Carla said the family had attended the Minnesota State Fair, but they didn't know anything about 4-H. When they entered the Beltrami County Fairgrounds the late Marilyn Shutter and Paul Hokuf, members of the Beltrami County Agricultural Association, welcomed them and talked with them for about half an hour about the opportunities for the children in 4-H.

They signed up in time for the girls to have three years in 4-H. The boys continue to participate as members of the Buena Vista Beartracks, and Terra and Sarah enter the open classes in horticulture, baking, canning and other home arts.

Last summer, Joshua investigated Civil Air Patrol, whose members were managing access to the Pinewood Fire Tower. Now he is a cadet airman.

"I certainly got more involved than I ever thought," said Carla, now secretary of the Beltrami County Agricultural Association. "My dad, who was raised on a farm, loves the idea."

She said her father had always wanted his children to experience farm life and is pleased that, although the opportunity skipped a generation, his grandchildren have that chance.

The Mandrell children are all homeschooled through the TEACH (Teaching Effective Academics and Character at Home) accreditation association.

Terra and Sarah both graduated from high school in 2003 and joined the world of work. However, Terra was able to adapt a homeschooling internship at Midway Gardens into a six-year job. She also works in maintenance, tending flowers and greens, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club, where she met Charlie Nichols, a maintenance manager. They are newly engaged to be married.

Terra said she plans to return to school for a nursing degree.

Sarah works in housekeeping at Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge and as an activities assistant at Goldpine. She plans to enter Bemidji State University for a veterinary assistant degree.

Joshua will begin seventh grade and Josiah fifth grade in the fall.

Sarah said the only things she missed by being homeschooled was art and playing in a band. She learned piano and flute and Terra learned piano and violin.

They said they sometimes miss their city friends, but some come to their country place to visit.

"Terra has an annual tea party," said Sarah.

"One lady even flew up for it," Terra said.

In addition to homeschooling the children, Scott is a machinist at Northern Precision Machine. Carla cooks at Ruttger's in the summer and at Buena Vista Ski Area in the winter, as well as cake making for Carla's Creations.

But besides their everyday activities, the annual Beltrami County Fair is a high point of the Mandrells' year.