When Hudsonville Community Fair week rolls around, many people are enticed by the food, thrills and grandstand entertainment. But the 4-H experience is another very exciting and educational component. Currently, the Hudsonville Community Fair is the center for over 3,000 4-H exhibits – reflecting the strong agricultural roots of our community.
You may have wandered the livestock barns to visit the animals, but have you ever considered the amount of work these young people have accomplished over the course of the summer to prepare for fair week? And did you know, some of them are Jenison students who don’t even live near a farm?
Since 4‑H began more than 100 years ago, it has become the nation’s largest youth development organization. They strive to engage youth in urban, rural or suburban communities to reach their fullest potential through experiential learning and the development of practical skills. Jenison teachers and parents have seen the benefits of this program first hand and they love that their students are getting a new perspective outside of their typical school and social circles.
This year, a collection of Jenison students (1st grade through 12th grade) spent much of their summer working on a 4-H Swine project. The process starts in May when the students look for a pig to purchase. They weigh about 40 pounds and reach around 300 pounds by fair time. Since some of them don’t live on a farm, housing the pig somewhere is a consideration as well. The students have much to learn and many decisions to make in order to raise their pig the best they can before the showmanship competition at the Fair in August. They are required to understand all components of the project, fill out paperwork correctly, give their pig the proper care including appropriate weight gain, grooming and being clipped well and making sure their skin is in the best shape possible.
During the upbringing of their project pig, the students make observations, ultimately presenting them in a notebook for review as part of their final presentation. Christine Duch is a 10th grader at Jenison High School and was glad she could channel some of the learnings from her art teacher to creatively express information during the notebook portion. Using her art skills helped her feel more confident about the project.
Jenison High School Assistant Principal, Julie Roby enjoys seeing her boys take on this great responsibility and work hard all summer. They have also created great bonds with friends they have met through the 4-H program in the past years. “My kids are gaining life skills – they have learned how to self-advocate. They are by themselves when they give their sales pitch to local businesses (to secure a buyer), they are by themselves in the show ring, and they shake hands with adults after the auction and the pig is sold. They have developed a confidence in their ability to represent themselves.”
Hannah Paddock is a 10th grader at JHS who has exhibited for 7 years, her 5th grade sister, Rylee joined 2 years ago. Mr. Ohman and Mrs. Hinkle are both Jenison teachers who have left an impression on Hannah – they have been so supportive and always stressed a ‘have fun and give it your best effort!’ kind of message. Hannah has appreciated that and applies that thinking to her fair projects. “It doesn’t always work out as we may wish but as long as we do our best and have fun with the process, it is always worth it in the end!
Some of our Jenison students have come away big winners for their efforts at the fair. The Paddock family won Grand Champion (best of the entire show) 4 times during their 7 year 4-H career. Multiple awards were received within the group this year as well including Ava Jenison, 2nd place; Rylee Paddock, Reserve Champion Junior Showman, Grand Champion Barrow (overall) and 1st place in individual class; and Hannah Paddock, 1st place in individual class.
In the 6 years Arianna Jenison has been participating in 4-H, she and her parents have learned more than they ever thought they’d need to know. They’ve given shots and taken care of other animal emergencies. One year, they were faced with a case of pig pox (like chickenpox for pigs!). Arianna enjoys the showmanship day, meeting new people outside of school and the satisfaction of hard work. She has also learned a great deal of financial responsibility with all that comes with raising a pig.
The students all agreed – they love the work and they come to be really fond of their swine friends, however, it’s a lot of stress wrapped up in a week of excitement. While they’re a little relieved it’s over, they’re looking forward to starting again next spring and making many more great memories at the fair!
It’s exciting that our Jenison students are pushing themselves with determination and perseverance; and representing our school so well! I’m proud to see them taking advantage of the 4-H experience!
When you head to the fair next year, make sure to take time to visit the 4-H exhibits and ask those hard working kids some questions. There’s something for everyone and the student exhibitors love to share what they have learned.