4-H participation up 16 percent at 2012 State Fair

Posted September 19, 2012 at 6:49 pm

4-H programs recorded a 16 percent increase at the 2012 State Fair, according to Peter Nielson, SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Director.

4-H livestock exhibits jumped to 3,624, up from 3,013 in 2011. 4-H display exhibits were at 11,320, up from 10,079 in 2011. The Youth in Action category, which includes public presentations, special foods, judging contests, skill-a-thons, and fashion revue, increased from 1,227 in 2011 to 2,140 this year.

“Across the board, we saw increased participation in 4-H events at the State Fair,” Nielson said.  State Fair is the equivalent of the state tournament for the nearly 8,500 4-H members across South Dakota.  The increased participation is a tribute to the importance that 4-H members put into gauging themselves against the best in the state.”

Paula Hamilton, the president of the South Dakota State 4-H Volunteer Leader Association, agreed with Nielson’s assessment.

“Because of the changes we’ve made over the past year, 4-H at the State Fair is stronger than ever. The volunteers, parents, and members all stepped up to the task and did a great job as a team. The kids doing better and learning more,” Hamilton said.

A distinct difference that Hamilton noted this year was the visible pride that 4-H members demonstrated in their organization. “As a leader, it was rewarding to see all the 4-H shirts on the fair grounds. They were everywhere. 4-H was so much more visible. I think it speaks to the pride everyone has in the 4-H program,” she said. “Because the program has changed, there is more pride and more involvement across the state. We’re all motivated to improve 4-H.”

Nielson credited volunteers and SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Advisors with the increased participation. “The greater 4-H participation at the State Fair shows that the 4-H program is stronger than ever following a year of budget cuts and reorganization of the SDSU Extension program.” 

“We actually are directing more staff time and program support to youth development at the county level as a result of our reorganization. The 4-H Youth Program Advisors across the state worked very hard to ensure a quality experience for our youth,” according to Nielson. 

The 4-H program is also relying more heavily on technology to support membership development and educational programs. “Our new 4-HOnline enrollment program, combined with the teaching capacity and information available at iGrow.org has made it easier for 4-H members to participate in our program,” Nielson said.

Hamilton said 4-H leaders and volunteers are actively working to raise funds for a new 4-H building on the State Fair grounds. “The new Clover Hall will showcase the future of 4-H. When it’s completed, it will give us even more opportunities to develop the program.”

The new Clover Hall facility is estimated to cost $3.9 million, and will be funded through donations. Hamilton hopes it will be built in time for the 2014 State Fair.

New in 2012

New 4-H programs at State Fair include the Skill-A-Thon and Premier Exhibitor contest while numbers continue to increase in the 4-H Robotics Challenge as well. These activities serve as the learning capstone to the 4-H program year.

Kathy Reeves, SDSU Extension 4-H STEM Specialist stated, “The Robotics Challenge may not be what you typically think about at the State Fair, but it grew by 37 percent this year and had a standing room only crowd.  Those numbers should continue to climb as a result of the training provided through the NASA Summer of Innovation grant, and a new partnership with the South Dakota Robotics Association.  The program challenges young people to solve problems by applying logical thought, team work and creativity. “

More than 100 young people competed in the new State Fair 4-H Beef, Sheep, and Swine Skill-a-thons, which gave 4-H member the opportunity to interact with industry representatives and test their production management skills.

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