The next generation of farmers has found their passion. 4-H program participation has never been higher at the Washington County Fair held in Richmond, RI August 17 through 21.
Celebrating its 45th anniversary, the five day Fair drew 100,000 visitors from across Rhode Island and Southern New England. The Fair and its various competitions were managed by a 20-member committee and representatives from the Washington County Pomona Grange, other local granges, 4-H alumni, Future Farmers of America (FFA) members and hundreds of dedicated volunteers.
4-H stands for Head, Heart, Hands and Health. 4-H Clubs were originally set up by the US Department of Agriculture to train students in agriculture and raising animals. Emphasis was placed on connecting public school education to country life while encouraging a sense of community and personal responsibility. Today’s American 4-H programs are run through Cooperative Extension programs at land grant Universities and now welcome over 6 million students and adults teaching leadership.According to Kristina Horan, RI 4-H Volunteer Coordinator, “hands-on experiences let youth explore career options, give back to their communities and gain life skills.”
Many 4-H Programs have expanded to sub-urban and urban areas and focus on nutrition and well-being. 4-H programs teach childrenwhere food comes from and shape their future choices about food, cooking and nutrition. Many clubs still raise and sell livestock to local chefs.
Chefs and Customers Prefer 4-H Raised Meats:
Kelly Liken, executive chef and owner of Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colorado enjoys buying atlocal 4-H auctions:
- When buying a 4-H-raised animal, Kelly supports efforts to use the whole animal. To minimize waste chefstryto create recipes that use as much of the animals as possible.
- The best quality animals are 4-H animals.According to Kelly, “There is a noticeable difference when animals are raised with love on healthy food and come from strong local blood lines. The flavors are full and haven’t lost their edge – and they are cared for by individuals who put care and time into the entire process of raising the animal.”
- 4-H supports children’s education; they learn that raising animals takes a lot of time, money and energy. The money raised through animal sales often supports students’ college funds. [Proceeds could also help purchase a new project animal for the next year or be reinvested in the family farm.]
- When chefs buy direct, they shorten the food chain by removing middlemen and distributors and save restaurants money.
- Chefs enjoy the energy of 4-H auctions and the county fair atmosphere. Chefs can select an animal, watch it move and identify muscle tone instead of ordering meat off a vendor form.
(* Summarized from a story on Kelly Liken published on June 21, 2011.)
“Another great reason to buy animals or produce from a 4-Her or other local grower is that buyers can ask the 4-Her or farmer what went into the animal or produce to ensure that there are no growth hormones used or preservatives added,” according to Kristina Horan with RI 4-H.
The next 4-H Beef Auction will be at The Big E on September 26 at 6 p.m. in the Mallary Complex. The Big E website describes the 4-H Beef Auction as the culmination of many long hours of sweat and commitment, hope for a positive return for their efforts and the satisfaction of doing a great job. Last years’ Auction offered 30 beef steers for sale. All sale proceeds will go directly to the exhibitors.
4-H Animal Competitions and Shows:
The Washington County Fair was Rhode Island’s largest agricultural event. The 4-H competitions and animal exhibits are among the biggest draws to the Fair. There were a variety of 4-H Competitions and Shows including:
- Junior Dairy Showmanship, Dairy Show, Dairy Clipping Contest
- Rabbit Contest, Open Rabbit Shows, Youth Rabbit Show, Rabbit Showmanship, Bunny Race
- Open Poultry Show, Youth Poultry Showmanship Contest and Rooster Crowing Contest
- Open Purebred Sheep Show, Lead Line Class
- Swine Show, Swine Obstacle Class
- Open Beef Show, Working Steer, Herdsman Contest, Premier Showmanship Contest
- Dog Show
- Premier Animal Contest and the Animal Costume Parade
About 50 RI 4-Hers will compete with their animals and 40 RI 4-Hers will present their 4-H projects at The Big E (Eastern States Exposition) held September 16 – October 2 in West Springfield, MA. For more information on this event, click here.
4-H Farm School:
The 4-H Farm School was held on Friday, August 18 at the Washington County Fair, offering students a chance to educate, promote and entertain the public about agriculture and the 4-H program by showcasing their 4-H animal projects. This year students demonstrated and spoke on horse skeletons, honeybees, Aquidneck Island’s Coyote Project and shared Boer Goats and bunnies with fair attendees. $-Hers followed these and Farm School guidelines:
- 4-H youth worked in teams of three with similar ages and abilities, age 8 to 18.
- One enthusiastic team member spoke for 10 – 15 minutes while other team members handled the animal(s) and demonstrated.
- Farm animals complied with all state health regulations and inspections.
- Teams formed and applied by August 1. With a time for only ten teams, selection was competitive. A variety of species and topics were selected.
Team members all received participation rosettes and T-shirts. Their Farm school participation counted towards community service and public speaking requirements for Big E and their record books.
The Fair’s 4-H Exhibit Hall was filled beyond capacity with over 150 student exhibits requiring extra folding tables as entries kept streaming in. RI 4-H project topics include agriculture, citizenship, science and healthy lifestyles. Whether building robots, launching rockets, doing community service, speaking publicly or raising animals, the 4-H goal is to teach and encourage confident, productive citizens.
This year’s Outdoor Exhibit theme was Xeriscape wherelandscapes utilized water-conserving techniques such as drought-tolerant plants, mulch and efficient irrigation. FFA exhibits took blue ribbons.
The Fair offered a variety of family activities including three-legged races, stilt walking, golf putting, nail driving, sack races, a pie eating contest, double beach ball race, pedal tractor pull and an obstacle course. Other events and shows included costume parades, urban circus acts and balloon artists. There was a Royalty competition with selection of a Fair Princess (age 12-15), Queen (age 16-19) and a Mini Prince and Princess Contest (age 5 to 7).
A Safe Tractor Operation Demonstration allowed drivers to test their skills moving and backing a variety of farm equipment with trailers or implements. Students of all ages participated in the Dairy Showmanship Competition on Friday. There were milking and egg toss contests daily. The Woodsman Contest partnered men and women in log role, log drag, pulp throw, doc split, cross cut and wood splitting contests.
Adult events held on August 21 included arm wrestling, dung throwing, tug-o-wars, senior pie eating and seed spitting contests. The Antique Tractor Show was loved by young and old alike as were the farm tractor, garden tractor, truck and pony pulls, the motorcycle rodeo and the lawn mower races.
Washington County Fair History:
The Washington County Fair, Rhode Island’s largest fair, is a“labor of love” according the Fair Committee. Started 44 years ago as a modest event held at Perryville Grange in Wakefield, it has grown into a five day event now hosting 100,000 visitors on a 135-acre fairground. Clyde Fish, Fair Chairman for the past 13 years, is a former 4-H Dairy competitor.
The Fair began as a way to emphasize the importance of agriculture in daily lives and to celebrate traditional county fairs. The Washington County Pomona Grange, encompassing all the local Granges in the County, owns and operates the Fair.
Hundreds of volunteers used a week of vacation to work up to 16 hours per day at the Fair. Many volunteered over 100 hours at food booths, running children’s games or overseeing 4-H events. Besides planning and running the Washington County Fair, volunteers also knit hats for hospital newborns, donate dictionaries to schools, give food to local food banks, donate to local charities and raise scholarships for high school students. Local Granges also support Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, FFA and other agricultural organizations with funds and meeting space.
Each of the 25 Fair food booths was run by a RI non-profit like a fire department, Veterans group or Boy Scout troop. For many organizations, this Fair was their primary annual fundraiser bringing in as much as $100,000.
Over the years, volunteers have reshaped the fairgrounds, created show rings and amphitheaters, paved paths, built barns and even a museum for agricultural equipment and antiques. New Fair and Grange volunteers are always welcome.
Other 4-H Fairs and Events:
There were four annual Fairs held across Rhode Island which included 4-H competitions. The Southern Rhode Island Fair was held June 24 – 26 at the Washington County Fairgrounds. The Eastern Rhode Island 4-H Country Fair was held July 16 – 17 in Portsmouth. The Northern RI 4-H Club’s Foster Fair/Old Home Days was held July 29 – 31. The Washington County Fair was held August 17 – 21 in Richmond, RI. For links to RI’s 4-H Fairs, click here.
4-H Family Fun Day, sponsored by RI 4-H alumni and friends, will be held October 22 from noon to 5 p.m. at the Washington County Fairgrounds on Route 112 in Richmond, RI. The event will include games, club exhibits, pony rides, animals, horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting, music, a 50/50 raffle, a silent auction, burgers and a Chicken BBQ dinner. For more information and registration, click here or call 401-874-7143.
A similar story ran in “Country Folks” in the 26 September, 2011 issue. Click here to view this issue.