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61st annual 4-H Fair at Eastern States Exposition increases number of participants


July 31, 2014
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds were in use July 26 as it played host to the 61st annual Hampden County 4-H and Youth Fair.

This year the fair featured about 193 exhibitors while last year’s only had about 160. Vice-President of Publicity Anne-Alise Pietruska was pleased with the turnout and the effort made by all participants.

“From set up to take down, the Hampden County 4-H Fair was a success. There was an incredible amount of participation in every activity from the fun run and bottle rockets to the visual presentations, lead line competition and numerous arts and crafts activities that were busy all day long,” she said. “4-Hers went above and beyond on their hall exhibit entries and showed tremendous effort in animal showmanship and demonstrations.”

Mary Phelon, a 4-H assistant who worked full-time for 30 years with 4-H, commented on the growth of 4-H in Hampden County.

“It’s steady. I don’t think we’ve increased much, but we haven’t dropped either,” Phelon said. “It totally depends on the volunteers who lead the clubs and teach the kids. You probably see it in the number of exhibits. Fifteen- and 16-year-olds have been growing their herds and have six to eight animals [whereas] when you’re 5 [years old] you’re only allowed one and will grow your herd over time.”

The fair is a chance for 4-H members to display the results of their hard work and get recognized for their effort.

“Basically we take all the 4-H clubs from Hampden County. They come here and display arts, crafts, and all their animals. The work they present here has been what they’ve done the past year,” Pietruska said.

“I was in 4-H my whole life so I started when I was 5 and aged out at 18. I’ve been with the fair association since I was in high school, volunteering for five or so years,” she continued.

Every year the number of participants fluctuates when older kids move on from the program and new participants get they’re first experience.

“It depends from year to year. When kids start out their obviously doing less then when they’re 15 or 16,” Phelon said. “I started as a 4-H member [when I was 5], then [became] a 4-H leader. I was a full-time staff member for 30 years and am now part-time. I’ve been here so long I’m starting to see 4-H children coming through with [their] children.”

Tyler Jansen from Granby, Connecticut, was competing in his final 4-H fair.

“[I’ve been in 4-H] since I was 5, I’m 19 now. This is my last year,” Jansen said. “It’s fun to come with my friends every year and enter my stuff to see how I do. It feels good to work hard all year and get blue ribbons.”

This year, Jansen had work in a variety of different areas to display including baked cookies and coffee cakes, canned jam, jelly, pickles, and applesauce, and some plants. He and his dad also made a chicken nest box, which is where it would lay its eggs.

4-H has also been making strides toward reaching children in cities.

“There’s a 4-H in Springfield for science and technology. They’ll do rocketry, some gardening, science experiments, that type of thing,” Phelon explained. “[There’s also] the egg-hatching project. We do that through schools and youth agencies. It allows us to reach 3,000 to 4,000 kids [including] a lot more urban kids in Holyoke, Chicopee, and Springfield.”

The 4-H fair would not be possible without the time, hard work, and education of the Hampden County 4-H Fair Association.

“They plan for this event year round, solicit donors and rewards, [and] get the judges,” she continued. “The volunteers are people who come through the program or have youth involved with the program.”

Pietruska added, “The event would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers.”

She is optimistic about the future after the strong youth presence at this year’s fair.

“There were a lot of younger kids and families that attended the fair this year, which was very promising. The fair is for the youth so it is great to see a younger age group getting involved and showing interest in future participation. The families were surprised to find that there were so many free activities and to see what a valuable learning experience 4-H has to offer their youngsters,” Pietruska explained.

Those interested in learning more about 4-H and upcoming events can visit Mass4H.org.

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