4-H Club is way more than just animals

4-H-er Rebecca Morton, right, and visiting 4-H exchange student Courtney Noonan of Ohio show off the Vera Bradley-style handbags they crafted for this year's 4-H fairs. Reminder Publications photo by Debbie Gardner
By Debbie Gardner

PRIME Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW Seventeen-year-old Rebecca Morton can't wait to show off her latest quilted creations at this year's upcoming Hampden County 4-H Fair.

The 11-year veteran of the East Longmeadow 4-H Club plans to enter the Vera Bradley-style quilted handbag and matching wallet she recently fashioned as an individual hall exhibit at the Fair, which will be held in the Eastern States Exposition's Mallary Complex from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on July 30.

Both on-the-grounds parking and admission to the fair are free

"I don't do it for the ribbons, but to contribute to our county," Morton told Reminder Publications in a recent interview about her exhibit in the upcoming fair. "I enter things to support our fair, and to show the younger kids what they can learn if they stay in 4-H."

It's more than just animals

According to Mary Phelon, program assistant for the Hampden County 4-H/Youth Fair Association, showing children all the things that they can learn and do through 4-H is what the annual Fair is all about.

She said Hampden County 4-H, which celebrates its 103rd anniversary this year, offers area youth a lot more than just the opportunity to learn how to care for animals, raise vegetables or cook and sew.

The 10 Hampden County 4-H Clubs cover a wide range of interests from practical life skills and food and nutrition to rocketry and creative arts.

Oh, and of course there are groups where kids can learn to care for animals.

Most importantly, Phelon said 4-H helped kids "develop leadership skills, communication skills, responsibility and decision-making skills."

"I was not an active child in school, I was shy and [reserved]," admitted Phelon, a 40-year 4-H member who joined her first club at the age of 6. "4-H is what developed my leadership skills, and especially, my communication skills."

Come see what 4-H has to offer

"We usually have between 150 and 200 exhibitors [at the fair]," Phelon said.

This year those exhibits will run the gamut from prize livestock to individual club displays highlighting some aspect of a group's projects such as how to apply for a home mortgage to individual hall exhibits of crafts including cake decorating, artwork, gardening, woodworking, and sewing.

"You always get such great ideas of what others are doing at the Fair," Morton said. "That's what I'm excited about."

One of this year's Fair highlights will be the 2 p.m. bottle rocket launch, hosted by a new 4-H group from Tolland.

And local gardeners are invited to bring a sample of their soil (taken from 6" deep) for analysis by a Master Gardener.

But, Phelon said, it is the hands-on events that really draw people to the annual 4-H Fair.

Have you ever raced a zucchini?

"During the day we try to provide activities visitors can participate in,"P helon said. "The veggie 500 is one of them,."

In the veggie 500, visitors are given their choice of a summer squash, zucchini or cucumber, plus wooden wheels and nails to create a "racer"

At noon, the veggie hot-rods race down a pre-set track and Phelon said "everyone receives a participation ribbon."

Bring your pet for the Pet Show!

Prior to the veggie race, Phelon said kids ages three to eight can participate in a pedal tractor pull.

Also at 11 a.m., kids of all ages are invited to bring their favorite pet to show off in the annual 4-H Pet Show

"Anyone is welcome to bring in an animal of any size," Phelon said. "[In the past ] they have been as small as little spiders and geckos and as big as very large dogs."

The only stipulation is that pets must be in a cage or leashed, and dog owners must bring their animal's rabies certificate with them.

Or show off your own talent

At 1 p.m., Phelon said all children are welcome to participate in the fair's talent show.

"We welcome any participant," she said. "We've had drama presentations, puppet shows, we've had kids bring in an instrument and play, or just sing and dance."

Phelon said talent show participants are asked to register for the event as soon as they arrive at the Fair.

At 2 p.m., fairgoers ages eight and up will also have the opportunity to lead a sheep or a goat through an obstacle course.

"It's for kids who have never handled a large animal ... we have 4-H members who will loan their animals and [the participants] walk the animal through the course with the assistance of the 4-H member," Phelon said.

Everyone can participate!

The Hampden County 4-H Fair is open to all youth in Hampden County between the ages of five and 19, and registered 4-H members from Hampden, Hampshire, Berkshire and Franklin Counties.

For more information about this year's Hampden County 4-H Fair, contact Mary Phelon at 562-3001.

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