From sheep shows to worm races, pie auctions to robotics competitions, this week featured a full range of 4-H club activities at the 76th annual Howard County Fair in West Friendship.
“The carnival is our Super Bowl,” Howard County 4-H administrative assistant Amy Brueckmann said as the throngs of bolo tie-wearing contestants prepared pigs for Tuesday’s 4-H/FFA Market Swine Show. “This is true [4-Hers] show their hard work.”
4-H stands for ‘Head, Heart, Hands and Health’ and is a national youth development organization with nearly 6 million participants that facilitates projects in a wide range of areas in the fields of animal, environmental and human sciences. Serving a wide range of interests, 4-H relies on thousands of professionals and volunteers to instill 4-Her’s lifelong commitment to community service and leadership.
Howard County’s 4-H program is run by the University of Maryland Extension, a non-formal education system within the school’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. More than 300 youth members ages 8 to 18 participate in more than a dozen different clubs across the county that focus on poultry, livestock, shooting sports, and more. The Clover program offers age-appropriate opportunities for children ages 5 to 7.
Michelle Hodiak, of Westminster, started on the Clover program and remained a member of 4-H for over a decade. She loved the experience so much that she now serves as an adult volunteer on the chicken project and on the sales committee, which helps auction livestock at the end of the fair.
“Many of these kids work with their animals every morning and every night,” Hodiak says. “They run them, they water them, they try them on, they cut them. They might be in there [show] two minutes of calling, but they put hours and hours of time and energy into that project [before the fair].”
The diversity of the 4-H program is evident in the sawdust-saturated stables at the fair and defies typecasting.
“4-H really means everything, I think that’s one of the main reasons we work,” said Blair Hill, a member of the exchange’s board of directors. Hill’s daughter, Kaitlyn, 14, is a member of the Howard County Beef Club and showed pigs at this year’s Howard County Fair.
“It used to be thought that you had to have a farm to be in 4-H; that’s not the case,” Hill said. “It’s just a wonderful program that promotes and gives leadership [participants] exposure to things they normally wouldn’t have in their lives.”
Kaitlyn agreed, adding that 4-H members can tailor the program to their interests.
“From crafts to animals to anything you really want,” she said.
Austin Bagwell, 13, of Mount Airy and the son of Brueckmann, County 4-H administrative assistant, exemplifies the interdisciplinary nature of the program. In addition to showing goats and pigs, he used articles in the woodworking, photography, living environment, bakery products, flowers and vegetables departments. Austin said he is not the exception, and that some 4-Hers “do everything”.
“We are very well-rounded and have many projects on offer,” said Chris Rein, 4-H Program Coordinator for the province. “That’s what makes us unique because we have so much volunteer-based knowledge that we can offer programming to whatever the child’s interest is.”
4-H’s 150 adult volunteers bring professional expertise to the clubs, from beekeeping to electronics. These livestock-less 4-H projects can be viewed in the Exhibit Hall annex, which provides a respite from the heat of more than 90 degrees during the week. Ribbons adorn many of the displays, awarded by judges after interviews with 4-Hers about their projects.
The hall also plays host to a number of indoor 4-H competitions, including the Small Pet and Wildlife Exhibition and Dog Bowl, a skillathon-style competition in which 4-Hers test their knowledge of dogs. Blake Levin, 13, of Sykesville, joined the Happy Hounds 4-H Club after getting a dog of her own and enjoyed the opportunity to make new friends.
“I met a lot more people who are older than me and now know people who are in college,” Levin said, speaking to the 4-H community.
At the fairgrounds, it’s hard to meet a 4-H member who was the first in their family to join the program.
“My mom did it, my uncle did it, my aunt did it and my grandmother did it,” Austin Bagwell said.
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Helen Quill, 14, is the president of the Dayton 4-H Club and exhibited 15 rabbits at the show. All of her rabbits are raised outdoors, which means hours of work keeping them cool in the summer and installing heaters and thawing their water all winter. She and her brother followed in their father Joe’s footsteps in the program.
“I have nothing but fond memories of 4-H and the things I’ve learned and the people I’ve met,” said Joe Quill, speaking through the hum of cooling fans near the rabbit hutches. “So I was very, very excited to be able to get my kids involved in 4-H.”
When Quill married, he and his wife moved to Silver Spring, but his love for Howard County never went away. He eventually bought a plot of land in the county and his family now lives four driveways away from where he grew up in Highland. 4-H was a big part of what made the community special, he said.
“It’s amazing because a lot of the same people who were here are still here from my generation and then their children and their children’s children. It was really cool and a great experience,” he said.
Quill’s appreciation for the program has certainly not been lost on his daughter, Helen.
“I, and all my fellow 4-Hers I know, have been told at some point in their lives that they are an old soul or that they are a really responsible kid,” she said. “I can almost guarantee that’s because of 4-H.”
The Howard County Fair runs through Saturday at the Howard County Fairgrounds, 2210 Fairgrounds Road, West Friendship. Tickets can be purchased and more information can be found at howardcountyfairmd.com.