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I’m a former 4-Her

As I browsed last weekend’s edition of “Lancaster Farming” I saw an article chronicling the Kempton Fair swine show and it hit me: fair season is suddenly upon us. Wow! My local county youth fairs will be here before I know it, and I know for thousands of 4-Hers across the Commonwealth, the workload, and the excitement is real.

If this were 2007, I’d be attending several club meetings, finishing my project books, discussing with my dad what animals would be taken to the fair, cleaning out the show box, washing chickens, feeding broilers, attending Junior Fair Board meetings, helping set up the poultry barn and the 4-H displays, studying for showmanship, going to special interest judging with my guinea pig or my (short-lived) cooking and sewing projects, heading to band camp to rehearse for the Fair Parade, balancing 4-H, sports, and a part-time job, and twiddling my thumbs until we would pack up projects and drive a whopping six miles to turn them in.

Everything I had worked and waited for all year would commence on the third Friday in August. But until then, I’d be busy.

Except the past few years, it has been very different. Of the past ten of my home county fairs, The Allen County Fair in Lima, Ohio, I’ve seen two.

For one, I was privileged enough to judge the market poultry classes with my dad. The other, I was confined to the bleachers watching younger versions of myself doing all the things I used to live for. That’s the most unfair thing about the fair… it ends for you and someone else takes your place.

I genuinely miss my time spent as a 4-Her. There was so much work that led up to it, but the best part was spending time, hanging out with my family and friends.

I learned so much about agriculture, leadership, and soft skills. (I also usually ate my weight in fried Oreos.) I have always enjoyed meeting new people and showing off my projects and knowledge to anyone who would listen. There was always a special place in my heart for “Senior Citizen Day.”

Folks from area retirement and nursing homes would venture out to the fairgrounds and stop by each of the livestock barns. It was always interesting to hear from a few seniors that they were in 4-H as youth and, “Boy, has it changed.” It meant a lot to me as a kid to have folks stop by the shows or my project pens and give their support.

Without support from the community, fairs would not thrive. Without local contributions and businesses, 4-H livestock sales would vanish.

So this year, consider attending your local fair. Talk to a young person about their projects. Purchase a project at the sale. Let these dedicated, bright, hardworking young people know their effort does not go unnoticed.

For me, I’ll find a seat in the bleachers, cheer on, and give a gentle reminder to “SMILE!” to the 4-Hers who have taken my place. Then I’ll go get some fried Oreos, congratulate the kids, and continue reminiscing my own glory days.

Good luck to all the 4-Hers in the thick of fair season. Please support your local, hardworking youth. I hope to see you all at our fairs!

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Emily K. Lhamon is a Poultry Educator with Penn State Extension. She can be contacted through email EXL96@psu.edu or by calling 717-248-9618.

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