Sarah Kern on 4-H: Part 2

My last article left us at the beginning of June. Each of my kids (Nora, age 10, and Theo, age 7) had selected their projects and we were well on the way to a summer full of crafting, training sheep, and preparing for interviews.

Our first event of the summer was Presentation Day. On Presentation Day, a select set of project areas are judged ahead of fair time. My kids participated in Fashion Revue, Food Revue, Demonstration, and Performing Arts. Nora did well in Fashion Revue. Participants get the chance to showcase an outfit they have shopped for and selected or handmade and constructed on their own. Nora and Theo both competed with Purchased Clothing. They had to elaborate on why they selected the outfit, how it fits into their wardrobe and the care of the items. Nora also participated in Upcycled Fashion. For this project, she (along with help from her Grammy), turned an adult wool skirt into a stylish jumper. She received an award of excellence and blue ribbon for both items. Theo enjoyed the Food Revue on the other hand. Food Revue allows kids to select a menu, prepare the food, and present a table setting to the judge. Theo showcased his chocolate chip pancake cuisine and Nora whipped up some instant pot mac and cheese. All of these events required the kids to meet with a judge and complete an interview process including questions about why they selected their project, what they do, and what they would have done differently. This really requires them to hone their interview skills and encourages strong communication and public speaking. 

After this event, we had almost three weeks before the county fair. The weeks were full of normal summer activities like baseball, but many nights were also filled with walking and washing sheep. We had to teach them how to brace – this means making them stand in a way that showcases their muscle and body frame. The judges are looking for certain body characteristics that would make the sheep optimum for market use or for breeding traits. We also had to shear (trim the wool down) before the fair. Even though the kids had been working on their projects ahead of time, there are inevitably final preparations to complete – items to glue, pictures to print, and interview questions to prepare for. 

Fair week began on Tuesday. The kids had to bring all of their static projects in for judging. Static projects are anything that is not an animal. Theo brought a Lego creation, a Perler bead collage, and a painted tractor. Nora’s projects included vegetables, apples, fine arts (she made clay earrings), Citizenship, and sewing (makeup bag). Wednesday we had to move the animals in at the fair. Thursday was the first day of the official fair. Friday brought the 4-H sheep and poultry shows. Saturday showcased the market auction. The Fair concluded on Sunday with the open class sheep show and hauling all projects back home. We still weren’t done on Monday – Nora participated in the state showcase for the Engineering Design Challenge.

Rather than bore you all with all of the details of the week, here are some of the highlights – these aren’t necessarily all highs but definitely memory makers and lesson-learning opportunities. 

  • The poultry project was a first for both kids. They brought three Pastel Call Ducks and a market pen of turkeys. I was so proud to watch them handle the ducks and take so much interest in learning about new animals. They enjoyed the ducks immensely. Did you know Pastel Call Ducks were originally carried in hunter’s pockets as live decoys because they have a very distinct and loud call?
  • Lamb lead – this project area was beloved by both kids. This project is designed to showcase the properties of wool instead of the lamb itself. Participants are expected to research and learn about wool. The lamb and 4-Her must both wear an item made of wool. Nora took Grand Champion in her division and was able to showcase her wool jumper. Theo loved the fact that his sheep was wearing pants. The pants were created from the same men’s wool jacket that his vest was fashioned from. He lovingly said he and his lamb were going to a wedding.
  • Engineering Design Challenge was the final hurrah of the fair season. This was a group effort with other kids in our local 4-H club. These kids worked hard all summer to build a machine that would turn a light switch on in at least 10 steps and create a background story to go with it. Think of the game MouseTrap. Their team received a blue ribbon and was only 2 out of 16 teams to receive a purple ribbon. 
  • The sheep project as a whole was very memorable for our family for a variety of experiences.
  • For 4-H, as Theo is a Cloverbud (under Grade 3), this age group is non-competitive and youth must have an adult showing the animal with them. So when he was able to show his lamb, Glaze, for open class (a show open to all ages and people) and his lamb took champion commercial ewe, he was thrilled. He was so pleased that he got to show his lamb on his own and the judge loved his lamb as much as he did.
  • Nora’s lamb experience was a bit different. While her lamb, Emma, was well behaved and mild back at the farm, the fair totally brought her out of her element. Animals experience stress just as humans do and it was clear, she was uncomfortable and uneasy in her new home for the week. She was edgy and touchy. When Nora showed her during the 4-H show, she got away from Nora and ran into another 4-Her’s lamb. While she was quickly caught and put back into Nora’s capable hands, Nora’s confidence was shaken and there were a few tears shed after the class. She was ready to quit even though she was signed up for one more class of showing. After a pep talk and the option to use Theo’s lamb for the Showmanship class, she dusted herself off, threw back her shoulders, put a smile on her face, and marched in the ring and did beautifully. I was so proud of her recovery. It was an upsetting situation but she was able to push it aside and finish what she started.

While we were done with the fair for the summer, many were still getting prepared for the Minnesota State Fair. The top competitors in many project and livestock areas are eligible for a trip to the State Fair where they will compete with youth from all across the state. The State Fair brings the best of the best together to see who has the best project not just in their county, but in the state. To go to the State Fair, you have to have completed 6th grade. So while Nora was on the docket to win such a trip, she isn’t able to attend yet as she is too young. 

While the fair is a ton of fun seeing your children be successful and take pride in their accomplishments, it is also exhausting and so much work as a parent when your kids are young. It was hectic, frantic sometimes, but fulfilling. We saw so many friends and enjoyed long overdue conversations and reunions. There were tears shed, times when I couldn’t find my 7 year old for the better part of half an hour, too much ice cream eaten, and sometimes the kids went to bed pretty dusty and dirty. But to me, it’s all worth it. A friend asked me how we can possibly devote so much time to one week of the year. The simple answer is I can see our investment pay dividends. I can see my children’s confidence grow when they do well in a project area. I can see their smiles when they know they know all the answers to the livestock quizzes. I can see their connection with their beloved lamb. I can see how willingly they accept the responsibility to care for their animals all through the fair instead of spending their days on carnival rides and games. I can see friendships forming and solidifying as they run around the fair with their 4-H friends, collecting all the free items they can get their hands on. I can see how comfortable they are growing with speaking to others and communicating with new people. In this crazy world, I am eager to embrace all the ways we can cultivate leadership and responsibility in our children and give them tools that will allow them to be successful. I can’t wait to see what they choose next year. But first, I’m going to take a nap!

Get the latest on Minnesota farming, food and our events.