LAGRANGE — The LaGrange County 4-H Fair is an annual event beloved by those who participate.
The fair begins its eight-day run Saturday.
The fair has been a staple of LaGrange County summers for years. Although a smaller fair, many people in the county are involved and a number of 4-H programs are available for children to take part in.
The 4-H program in LaGrange County offers kids many opportunities, including a chance to learn about and care for animals. The smaller 4-H clubs allow kids to have a more personal connection with the leader and other members, according to fair participants.
“The fair is so small here. Everyone knows everyone and it’s super nice. It feels very safe," Tricia Carey, mother of four 4-H members, said. "My kids are home-schooled, so it’s also a great opportunity for them to build and develop friendships.”
Many kids are active in several 4-H clubs, which gives them opportunities to learn about multiple areas. In addition to developing close relationships, Carey said the clubs provide children the opportunities to develop life skills, with most 4-H leaders encouraging members to think outside the box and go above and beyond what they thought they were capable of.
Sarah Zook, fair board member and mother of active 4-H participants, said the thing she likes most about the LaGrange County 4-H Fair is its family-friendly environment.
Another thing Zook values is the safe atmosphere at the fair.
“We have police that patrol the fairgrounds. Overall, the security is very good.” Zook said. “The fact that the fair is so small makes everyone feel safe, as well.”
Another plus Zook and others talked about is that the 4-H program in LaGrange County develops members’ ability to manage time effectively.
Wyatt Hanaway, a 4-H member, is involved in a number of programs, including both animal and exhibit programs.
According to Hanaway, the 4-H program has taught him several important skills, including public speaking, animal care and responsibility.
“Participating in the LaGrange County 4-H program is a great way to train kids to have responsibility and manage time,” Hanaway said.
Stacy Hanaway, Wyatt’s mother, strongly believes that the fair also works hard to educate the public on a variety of different subjects, mostly nature and safety. Each year, a LaGrange County police officer as well as a conservation officer, conduct several presentations to teach kids about nature and staying safe.
“It’s a small fair, but there is so much for people to learn.” Hanaway said.
Some 4-H animal programs allow members to "rent" an animal, using it during fair season and then returning it to the owner after the season comes to an end.
Riley Lewis, a seventh-generation LaGrange dairy farmer, has started such a program this year. He intends to lease his dairy calves to kids who are interested in working with large livestock.
Lewis decided to start this program as he saw a number of local dairy farms going out of business due to low milk prices throughout the country.
Lewis, who was a 10-year 4-H'er and a Purdue agricultural economics student, wants children to experience what it’s like to work on a farm and care for livestock.
“This program is designed to give kids opportunities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Lewis said of his new leasing project.
In addition to many animal clubs, there are also a variety of 4-H project programs, including veterinary science, air and space and recycling. New this year is beekeeping.
One popular, traditional activity at the LaGrange County fair is the Tractor Club.
The club, designed to teach kids about operating lawn mowers safely, has been around for more than 60 years and has maintained a steady number of participants.
According to parents of Tractor Club members, the club teaches members a practical skill, with most kids leaving the club with a knowledge of how to safely and properly use and operate a lawn mower, a necessary skill for many children in the rural county.
In addition to the dairy calf leasing program, also new this year will be a kiddie carnival, as well as a Christian concert with performances by For King and Country and Rebecca St. James. The Royal Hanneford Circus will also be putting on a thrill show.
Camden Chaffee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 314.