The 65th annual Hamden County 4-H Youth Fair took place July 29 at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA. The fair is put on each year to offer youth ages five to 18 an opportunity to publicly display projects from the past year.
The one-day event was packed with a wide variety of activities such as livestock showmanship, exhibits, talent and fashion shows, arts & crafts and an awards presentation. According to fair officials there were a total of 144 exhibitors and 1,386 exhibits at this year’s fair.
Hampden County 4-H Youth Fair Association President Carey Leckie says the totals were down a little from last year due competition from other youth activities.
“There were fewer participants this year because there are a lot of competitors with opportunities for children nowadays,” Leckie said. “We are competing with sports, youth organizations and other educational opportunities that are out there.”
Despite the lower totals Leckie says she is encouraged by the fact that this year’s fair had several areas of growth.
“We were able to increase our handicraft and photography divisions,” Leckie said. “The most exciting thing we have seen is the increase in our Cloverbud clinics for children ages five to eight years old. It shows that younger kids have an interest and they will grow up knowing what 4-H is and ensure the future of 4-H.”
According to Hampden County 4-H Youth Fair Association Recording Secretary Paul Tippett livestock showmanship classes continue to be a popular activity at the fair. This year there were 71 registered dairy cows, 14 registered beef cows and 12 registered steers. According to Tippett these totals were an increase from last year.
Anna Demko, who serves as the fair’s beef superintendent, says even though the Hamden County Fair is a smaller event it still offers youths with highly competitive showmanship classes thanks to the amount of quality livestock.
“When you’re dealing with the 4-H, the livestock quality is going to be very good,” Demko said. “When you go to shows like the Big East [Youth and Cattle Jackpot Show] it’s big farms so there are good quality cattle there but for the quality and the amount of work that the youth put in here you get stuff that would be comparable to those professional shows. This fair is like a preparation for the Big E and for the national shows.”
There were several notable winners from this year’s showmanship competitions. Harrison Roberts of Chesterfield, MA took home four top finishes in the beef and steer categories. He came away with the Overall Female Grand Champion Beef Cow, Overall Grand Champion Steer, Champion Hereford Heifer and Champion Hereford Steer. Haley-Anne Lynch of Southwick, MA came away with the Champion Simmental Heifer. Baily Howard of Feeding Hills, MA received the award for the Best in Show Steer.
Haley-Anne Lynch won Overall Female Reserve Grand Champion Beef Cow and Reserve Champion Simmental Heifer. Sam Dykstra of Douglas, MA won Overall Reserve Grand Champion Steer and Reserve Champion Hereford Steer. Harrison Roberts also came away with the Reserve Champion Hereford Heifer.
There was no overall grand champion selected during this year’s dairy showmanship. Instead, judges selected a grand champion for each breed category. The top Milking Shorthorn belonged to Kaitlyn Nato of Stafford Springs, CT. The top Brown Swiss belonged to Kirbie Nichols of Hadley, MA. The top Ayrshire belonged to Sam Goodfield of North Brookfield, MA. The top Holstein belonged to Katelyn Poitras of Brimfield, MA. The top Guernsey belonged to Rachel Meacham of Chester, MA. The top Jersey belonged to Zachary Zilinski of Gill, MA.
Sheep, goat, rabbit, dog and poultry showmanship classes also took place throughout the day. Other activities included a horse parade, veggie car races, bottle rocket launch, talent show, fashion show and scavenger hunt.
Tippett says that there is a public misconception that 4-H is only agriculture and animals.
“It’s robotics, photography, arts and crafts,” Tippett said. “It’s just about anything you want. There is either a club for it or if you have the volunteers to start a club then you can join 4-H.”
Leckie agrees and adds that the Fair Association Committee has been working hard to offer new ideas and different educational opportunities to the youth.
“We are trying to find a niche where we are relevant for kids today,” Leckie said. “4-H has been pushing for children that are in the city and the suburbs and not just kids that are in the country. What 4-H has done is move into areas that we haven’t done before like rocketry, robotics, computers and engineering. Anytime we offer additional education to the youths it helps increase the quality of the projects and gives the kids another opportunity to learn from experts in the field.”
Leckie points out that the ability to successfully run these new opportunities would not be possible without the contribution of volunteers. The fair is put together each year under the leadership of several volunteer officers and directors. Other volunteers provide hands on assistance for exhibits during the day of the fair. Sue Wright has been volunteering at the 4-H fair for over 50 years.
“I’ve been in 4-H since I was eight years old and I’m 73 now,” Wright said. “My husband’s father actually started the Hampden County 4-H Fair Association.”
4-H’ers like 16-year-old Jackie May also play an important role assisting cattle owners during the fair. “We are part of the Massachusetts Beef Team,” May said. “There are about 25 of us and we all have our own animals. When we’re not competing against each other we’re helping cattle owners clean and fit their animals.”
Others such as Charles Corey happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“We came to see a horse show [at the Eastern States Exposition] and saw that they were having the 4-H fair here and we just thought we would come over and see if they needed any volunteers for the day,” Corey said.
Tippett says that no matter what the experience and background volunteers are always needed.
“Volunteers are hard to find,” Tippett said. “We ourselves are finding that some of our volunteers are aging out or moving away. A lot of 4-H’ers themselves go off to college. It’s hard to find a replacement for them.”
For more information on the Hampden County 4-H Fair visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HampdenCounty4H.