VANCOUVER—As he stepped into the Agrodome with his 4-H hog project on August 19, 20-year-old Gabriel Camparmo had no idea about the surprise ahead.
The gavel clapped in a joint sale to Bonetti Meats and Gabriel’s proud father, Maurice Camparmo. Gabriel was beaming as the crowd cheered.
Then, Maurice jumped the fence, walked up to his son and handed him the keys to his new truck. The two men embraced as Gabriel fought back tears.
“I’m so happy to know that I have people in my life that love me like that,” says Gabriel. “[Getting a truck] was my biggest stressor this year because I barely had enough money for school, much less a truck.”
Gabriel’s last year in 4-H went off as well as it could have. Weighing in at 266 pounds, Pedro won champion market and champion swine showmanship during the PNE 4-H show.
Pedro was one of 127 animals sold at the anual auction and at $7 per pound, brought well above the average price of $3.90 per pound. The auction’s total sales were just shy of $308,000 and featured swine, lambs, goats, poultry and beef. Gabriel also sold his lamb Kip for just over $2 a pound.
His father Maurice couldn’t have been happier.
Raised in Saskatchewan, Gabriel came to live with him at 15, and they bonded over the livestock on their small hobby farm in Langley.
“At times I wouldn’t find him in the house, and I couldn’t figure out where he was. He’s sleeping in the hay loft [near pregnant ewes]…,” he says. “Animals and caring of animals have been his go-to place and he does it well.”
For as long as he can remember, Gabriel has had a passion for animals. Growing up, all he wanted were animal dictionaries and pets. It started with a well-trained hamster named Slinky and eventually led to a dog, cat and then horses he’d save from meat markets.
His passion was overshadowed by a tough life in Saskatchewan, however.
Gabriel spent most of his childhood and early teenage years with his mother. He lived through emotional and mental abuse so in desperation, he left to be with his father in Langley.
“I would be hiding under stairs and stuff and it wasn’t good. I came out here and I was pretty broken,” says Gabriel. “I had my dad, but I didn’t know him. I hadn’t talked to him really until I was 15.”
“It’s been a really long and hard trip for me,” Gabriel continues. “To be able to end my 4-H career like this, it makes me very happy because I didn’t think I’d ever get here. I didn’t think I’d live past 17.”
Maurice took note of his son’s love for animals, and signed him up for 4-H. Gabriel came out of his shell and flourished in the program.
“4-H gave me a family,” says Gabriel. “It gave me something to look forward to and support and people to talk to … it allowed me to be a kid again when I didn’t have that growing up.”
The horses Gabriel had in Saskatchewan were too expensive to board so he tried swine, an animal with a completely different temperament than he was used to.
“I was so scared of pigs! The first time I saw them I started crying,” he says.
Through determination and support from 4-H, Gabriel began to understand and love the animals he’d feared.
“I’ve fallen in love with my pigs because I’ve figured out that you don’t have to push them to do anything. They’ll generally do what you want on their own if you ask politely,” he says. “I specifically love their mind. You would think that they are very brutish animals. They [seem] loud [and] aggressive, but they’re not ; they’re very gentle and they are a prey animal and they panic. Their defense mechanism is their strength, so they tend to throw their weight around, but if you keep them calm and you’re calm around them and you don’t aggravate them, you’re not going to have any issues. You’re going to have this sweet animal that’s easy to handle, easy to train and manoeuvre.”
In a sense, he managed to turn some of the darker times in his life into a strength when dealing with especially fearful animals. Pedro was Gabriel’s “prize” possession, even before she (yes, she!) came out on top at the PNE. It took countless hours of patience to get her to trust him.
“Till today, she has been the most difficult hog I’ve ever had,” he says. “I would go into the pen and I’d ask her to turn and she’d just throw her whole body into me and knock me over and then run away screaming … but eventually she’s learned that I’m not going to hurt her.”
Off to school
A week after the PNE, Gabriel is leaving for Big Bear Ranch, between 150 Mile House and Horsefly, but he didn’t have a vehicle to get there. A major snag like that had the potential to kill a dream he’d been working towards for his whole life. He spent the summer milking goats at 4 am to afford gas so he could drive his father’s truck to a pest management field course at University of the Fraser Valley in Chilliwack during the day. He also finished a certificate in livestock production at UFV this year, bussing from Langley to get to the campus in Chilliwack. All the while, he was looking for some wheels to get him to the Interior so he could start the sustainable ranching program at Thompson Rivers University.
“We’ve been looking all summer long and there were a couple [of] opportunities to acquire a truck, but as things have it, you’re always the second person there,” explains Maurice. “This all happened on Friday after delivering the animals [to the PNE].”
After he purchased the used truck privately on Friday, Maurice secretly moved it to his hobby farm in Langley while Gabriel stayed in residence at the PNE with 4-H.
With his new truck, he will spend the fall and winter at Big Bear Ranch where he’ll work as a hand while attending classes in Williams Lake. After completing the two-year diploma in sustainable ranching, Gabriel hopes to be part of the next generation of environmentally conscious farmers with his own pasture-raised hog and lamb farm.
“It’s my passion to be able to farm sustainably for the future,” he says, noting that farmers’ average age is getting close to retirement. “I want to pick up some of the slack that’s being left from the depleting farmers and continue in a sustainable fashion.”