???????????????????????????????by Sanne Kure-Jensen
Local and regional fairs with 4-H and FFA competitions help educate fair visitors about agriculture as well as build competitors’ skills, self-confidence and leadership skills. These competitors and audiences may become be our next generation of farmers and ranchers.
4-H fairs and competitions offer students feedback on their agricultural projects and a chance to compete against their peers. Students face their public speaking fears and hone their presentation skills. Many find financial incentive to improve their skills and knowledge.
Prize money or premium awards offer incentives for continued efforts, pay for future projects and help fund college educations. 4-H and prize winning livestock often fetch high prices at auction. 4-H animals have become accustomed to working cooperatively with people, and they can be easier to manage that other livestock.
4-H, FFA and Scout programs at community fairs help build their self-confidence and teach leadership skills. Livestock competitions may include beef, dairy, goat, sheep, equine, rabbit and poultry classes.
The five-day Washington County Fair in Richmond, RI draws more than 100,000 visitors from across southeastern New England. Non-farming urban and suburban families had a chance to view chicks, ducklings and piglets as well as look inside a beehive. Kids of every age watched students grooming and working with farm animals, large and small. Teen and adult competitors drove tractors, led horse pulls to win prize ribbons and money.
Pork and poultry farmer Greg Breene of Breene Acres in West Greenwich, RI said, “This year’s livestock competitions drew more competitors than last year at the Washington County Fair.” He explained that 4-H kids tend to grow up competing with their friends. Eventually, the students graduate or move on to other things. Various competition classes may see a year or two of light attendance until the next group of 4-H kids join and develop into strong competitors.
The theme for 2014 FFA competitions was “Birds and Bees” at the Washington County Fair. Four FFA chapters created landscape vignettes with plants and decorations offering pollinator habitat, food and water. The Narragansett FFA Chapter won first place.
For more than 50 years, the Washington County Fair has been operated by volunteers at the Washington County Pomona Grange, a non-profit community service organization. The individual Granges making up the Pomona Grange support Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, FFA and other agricultural organizations.
The Washington County Fair is Rhode Island’s largest agricultural event with 4-H livestock competitions and exhibits. Beside livestock competitions, the fair includes display barns with vegetable, flower and craft competitions and 4-H displays. One hundred and thirty food, craft and commercial vendors offer their wares to visitors. Non-profit and civic demonstrations educate visitors on agricultural and environmental issues. Other fair draws include a giant midway, Kiddie Land and performances by well-known country music stars.
The fair’s food concession stands are owned and operated by local non-profit organizations. Each year, these non-profits bring in more than $250,000 toward their annual budgets, making their community services possible.
Fair admission included access to all agricultural events and shows, tractor and horse pulls, daily concerts and special acts. The giant midways featuring New England’s largest traveling roller coaster require separate tickets.
The 2014 Washington County Fair ran Aug. 13-17.