Discover 4-H — America’s largest youth development organization — at county fair

Children play in the ‘Corn Corral’ while parents relax at the 4-H Youth Building at the Franklin County Fair. (Photo provided)

4-H is one of the leading youth organizations in North America and almost certainly the most highly recognized of all Cooperative Extension programs.

Across the United States, 4-H empowers more than six million boys and girls, ages 5-19, nearly 170,000 in New York alone, by providing opportunities to meet new friends, learn new skills, experience leadership, contribute to community, and much, much more.

4-H-type youth programs can be found in more than 80 countries around the world, too (i.e. 4-S in South America, 4-K in Turkey, Young Farmers’ Club in England). Ask a 4-H youth-member what 4-H is about and you’ll get answers like fun, learning, and doing really cool things.

When a child joins 4-H, he or she takes membership in an informal and truly unique education setting; one that enhances the life-skills of its member-children through training, education, and play and that stimulates their interests and challenges their abilities. 4-H programs cultivate social, emotional, physical, and cognitive competencies in a positive environment. Children receive guidance from adult mentors who work to better-prepare them to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood and to take on proactive leadership roles in their community and around the world.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County promotes 4-H youth development through 4-H clubs, in-school and after-school programs, and by offering opportunities for 4-H club-members to participate in National 4-H Conferences, statewide events at Cornell University and elsewhere, and our county and New York state fairs.

The Franklin County Fair has a long and rich tradition of supporting 4-H programs and 4-H youth. For more than a century, the fair has been a place for 4-H members to come together to showcase their skills, craftsmanship, showmanship and their animals. The fair is not actually a part of the 4-H program and Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Fair Board are not directly related. Still, both organizations have been cooperating for generations to assure continued success.

I’m often truly inspired by the effort, creativity, and teamwork put forth by 4-H leaders and volunteers, and by the hard work of our 4-H club members as they ready their displays with the posters, crafts, woodworking, sewing, and gardening projects that they’ve submitted for judging. I’ve received a lot of enjoyment watching 4-H member-families decorate and ready the stalls and pens that will temporarily be home to the children’s prized horses, cows, goats and sheep. Words cannot describe the love, pride and individual care given by these remarkably enthusiastic boys and girls to their exceptionally-well-cared-for animals. They won’t all go home with blue ribbons but, as far as I’m concerned, they’re all winners. Visitors are encouraged to view these much-loved animals in their pens and stalls and to enjoy the many equestrian and livestock exhibits, demonstrations, shows, and competitions taking place during the week in the 4-H show pavilion.(More information can be found online at

Parents are invited to take a relaxing break from the midway at the 4-H Youth Building (located behind the commercial exhibits building) where small children can play in the ‘Corn Corral’ (It’s free) and, along with viewing dairy calves of six breeds and a playful passel of piglets, you’ll see educational exhibits including a honey beehive, a brooding hen along with chicks being hatched using artificial incubation, and a reptile and amphibian exhibit featuring turtles, tadpoles/frogs, and snakes of the Adirondacks, along with the hundreds of 4-H projects on display. Butter-making and Energy Bike workshops (make a smoothie by peddling the energy bike) are being offered on Monday, Aug. 7 and Thursday Aug. 10. There’s a baby-changing station available, too. And you can enjoy a refreshing milkshake, a hearty baked potato with toppings, fresh, hot popcorn, and/or a grilled cheese or ham and cheese sandwich at the Clover Corner Eats Dairy Bar.

Every 4-H member’s relationship with 4-H values can be summed up with these words, “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living; for my club, my community, my country, and my world.” That’s the official 4-H pledge; an affirmation of friendship – and of friendships that will span generations; a promise to share time and experiences with others; and a statement of intent to learn and discover new abilities, talents, and skills that can be used throughout one’s lifetime. It’s about family and community responsibility; hard work and success; and developing attitudes and habits that will help us all meet today’s challenges and the challenges of the future, as well. And it’s about building a world in which youth and adults learn, grow, and work together as catalysts for positive change.

It’s easy to join 4-H. You can find a club that fits your child’s interests by contacting your local CCE office. And if you’d like to get involved as well, why not become one of the many parents, volunteers, and community leaders sharing their time and talent with 4-H youth?

Check out 4-H at the Franklin County Fair; Aug. 5 to 14.