4-H Youth Fair: By kids for kids
PITTSFIELD — From the art and animals, to the entertainment and vendors, the annual 4-H Youth Fair is run by kids.
On Saturday, more than 50 students showed off their talents at the 4-H fairgrounds on Utility Road.
"We plan everything, and are responsible for everything, with the fair," said 16-year-old Fiora Caligiuri-Randall. "One of the most common misconceptions about 4-H is that it's all about agriculture."
While livestock showing is a big draw to the annual event, Fiora doesn't have any animals. Her interests include leadership, public speaking, community service and arts.
Fiora and other club members meet once a month all year to plan and organize the event. In addition to raising money, they decide how to spend it, booking talent and advertising on their own, she said.
For other kids, though, it's all about the animals.
Sitting outside of a barn full of caged birds, Ellie Gelinas stroked her Polish chicken, Lola, who was perched on her lap. Ellie said that showing chickens requires she learn and understand an enormous amount of information related to their breeds.
With her bigger chickens, she has to make sure that the dark feathers aren't growing where the white ones are supposed to be, she said.
"We have to memorize all of these questions," said Ellie, as she retrieved a binder full of information she would be judged on.
Ellie has five chickens and each one has different likes and fears. Learning how to make each bird comfortable is the key to being successful at the fair.
Lola, for example, is an aquaphobe, she said.
"She can't stand water," Ellie, 11, said. "But when she's in it, she loves bubbles so we put a ton of them in there."
Students who care for larger livestock tended to them in pens nearby.
Kaya Farrington, of Cummington, discovered 4-H as a student at Berkshire Trail Elementary School. Her mother asked if she wanted to raise goats or sheep. She went with sheep.
At first, though, she had a meat breed.
"I couldn't handle sending them off to market and stuff," she recalled. Now 13, she has six cotswold sheep that produce wool.
Kaya said she tries to sheer the sheep two or three months before a show or right after so they present with a full coat.
"The wool can be sold dirty, it can be sold clean, or dyed," she said.
While 4-H students can remain in the program until they're 18, as they get into their teens they start taking on an educational role, teaching the younger students.
Clayre Ames, 16, of Orange, introduced her two cows, Blossom and Susie, to younger children.
Clayre's family has a beef farm with many cows, but the heffers aren't sold for meat, she said.
Susie and Blossom, who will eventually be bred and sold, were examined for muscle and other physical traits on Saturday.
"They basically just eat hay and sweet feed," she said of caring for them.
For some kids, 4-H is a family tradition that is passed on through generations. For others, it's the children who get interested first and then bring their parents into the loop.
Charlotte Tupper, of Florida, became decided to start showing rabbits when she was 7 years old.
Now 10, she's a junior in the 4-H program and is able to show them at the fair, said her father, Seth.
On Saturday, she sat with her 6-year-old twin siblings, while they brushed two rabbits that would later be judged.
The twins are just starting out in the program and learning about the animals they will eventually raise on their own. They still need some help from older family, Seth Tupper said.
"Charlotte dragged us all into it. We've had rabbits before so it wasn't a big leap," he said. "It's a big family learning project."
As Saturday's fair comes to an end, the organizers are ready to jump into next year's plans, according to Fiora.
Next summer's event will be the 80th anniversary of the fair and organizers want to make it extra special.
"We will invite every person we can think of," said Angelica Paredes, a 4-H educator.
Public officials already have a place at the fair. Every year, a group of politicians and community leaders, most of whom have no background in 4-H, compete against each other in one of the events. In the past, it had been milking sheep. This year, it was sheep showing.
"It's rather comedic because they don't know what they're doing," Fiora said.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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