With the Fillmore County Fair right around the corner, people all over the county prepare for entering projects or exhibits in the competitions, both for 4-H and the open class. Depending upon the individual, he or she may enter several projects from fairy gardens, to crafts, to live animals.
While both veteran 4-Hers and relatively new participants anticipate the fair, a great deal of preparation and research goes into the exhibits to ensure a well-done and exceptional quality for the fair.
This is especially true in the Nelson household, of rural Wykoff. Courtney, Kira and Annika Nelson, daughters of Bruce and Anna Nelson, have been immersed in 4-H for several years. Along with their friend, Mikayla Vande Zande, daughter of Carrie Enright and Dale Vande Zande, they belong to Preston's Carimona Cruiser's 4-H Club and Courtney herself is the secretary of the club. Each of them plans to enter multiple exhibits during this year's fair.
Coming from a family with a little history of being involved with 4-H for many years, 13-year-old Courtney has participated in the fair for the majority of her life, or eight years. Right behind her is her 11-year-old sister, Kira, who has been in 4-H for seven years, and 6-year-old Annika has been participating for two years. Mikayla, though she joined 4-H a long time ago, she has only entered exhibits in the fair for the past few years. Her sister is also involved in 4-H.
Years ago, the girls' mother, Anna, participate in 4-H and passed on her excitement for the program to her daughters. Their father, Bruce, though he himself had never been involved with 4-H, is excited about 4-H being a good learning experience for his daughters.
Several of the categories these girls are entering this year include showing two rabbits and horses and creating fairy gardens or a vegetable garden. Of course, the animals need care all year round, ensuring a great deal of time dedicated to their care and grooming. However, the gardens took much less time.
Fairy gardens have a specific theme such as a jungle or a mystical garden and require a plan for design.
"First you have to find containers to put the plants in and design it. Then you have to put the plants into the right spot," stated Courtney. "For the plants, you need to find something within your theme that will flow well. The judges will ask you questions like what kind of plants you used, so you have to know what they are or do some research before the competition."
Planting a little too early can also put a crick in a person's plans.
"The plants need a lot of care and you have to make sure they stay in the spots they need too. If you plant too early, they will grow into places you don't want them to be," Courtney added.
Some of the plants the girls used include a strawberry plant, a petunia and a hibiscus. Each garden has a variety of colorful plants, adding to the "fairyness," and signs and animals which enhance their themes.
The rabbits they plan to show are also a variety of breeds.
"I am showing Netherland Dwarf rabbits. The male is named Chester. He has a chestnut color and if he has a mature coat, there is a certain texture to it where you blow on it to show the right color for maturity," Kira related.
Likewise, Courtney will be showing Mini Rex rabbits.
"Mini Rex have a really soft coat. My female rabbit is white like an albino. At first, I didn't like albino rabbits, but then I got this one," she said.
Mikayla’s rabbits are Mini Lops with a chinchilla-like color of coat.
Finally, Annika will be showing her sister's rabbits.
"She is still a Cloverbud. They are able to enter anything that an older 4-Her can enter, but with animals they cannot use their own. Older 4-Hers have to hold the animals," noted Anna, one of the leaders of the Carimona Cruiser's 4-H Club.
A big part of entering animals has to do with their care, food and exercise.
"The rabbits entered in competition are not supposed to have any fat pockets," Courtney commented.
However, sometimes this may not be as easy as just exercising the rabbits. It also depends on the amount of food given.
"I may have over-loved a female rabbit last year. I'm still working on getting rid of her fat pockets," related Kira.
Those entering rabbits into competitions have specific types of food to give rabbits to ensure top quality coats.
"We have to feed and water the rabbits every day. Sunflower seeds help make their coats look good, oats make them more healthy, but they are a filler so they don't eat too much, and pellets which will make them less hungry. We also have to give rabbits a bath once a month or if the coat feels oily," Courtney described. "Rabbits actually like taking baths."
Their horses are mostly grass fed during the summer, but the girls do have to monitor them to make sure they feel good, are healthy and well groomed.
When in the fair, their animals will be judged on showmanship. For the rabbits, the girls will be asked questions on any kind of rabbit, requiring much research. Information they must know includes the main colors a rabbit could be, the number of different kinds of rabbits and how they fed and exercised their own rabbits.
"One time, I was being judged for the runner-up after the judges had determined the champion and the question was the number of rabbit kinds. I had no idea there was so many different kinds. I had a lower number than the other person so she got it because she was closer to the actual number," Courtney said.
For showing horses, the judges will critique how the horse looks and acts, how the girls train, exercise and clean them, their side-passing for trails and their ability to do drill teams to music.
"We have clinics for rehearsing with the drill team. We rehearse making patterns and shapes to music," related Kira.
The girls also have their own particular competitions they have entered. Mikayla is doing a vegetable garden and an art project from school.
"One neat thing is that art projects entered do not have to be done specifically for the contest, but they can be from something done earlier in the year like at school," stated Anna. Annika and Kira are competing in crafts and fine arts, working with clay.
"The clay takes two to three weeks to dry completely, but painting the clay does not take long at all," Annika noted.
Kira is also entering a relatively new category, Clothes You Buy.
"You go out to buy an outfit and put together a presentation of why and how you chose those items, how expensive they were and pictures of the items together, with the tags, and separate. They also want pictures of the items on you and how they can be put together with other clothes. Then they want them cleaned and pressed after you wear it," she described.
Finally, Courtney will be entering a veterinary science project on horse anatomy with a model on the poster. This, of course, requires a lot of research.
"I will have a model of the horse with the skeletal system and organs. I have to know each part of the horse. Last year I wasn't prepared for telling the judge what the parts were. Now I know what to expect," she noted.
Each girl has found pleasure being in 4-H in some way or other. The fair gives them something to do during the summer, provides a bit of fun and the girls can use their creativity.
"It's fun. After school is out, we can see people at fairs and sit around with the animals while there. We can learn more about what to do next year, too. Entering the projects we did sounded interesting and fun. We learn a lot and it tests our knowledge," stated Kira.
Anna sees a few other benefits in the 4-H program.
"I am really excited about 4-H. Some of the projects last all year long so it teaches them responsibility. 4-H gives the kids great responsibility and confidence. They learn a lot about animals and other things and there is a sense of pride in that," she stated. "The girls would enter everything if they could."
The Fillmore County Fair begins on Tuesday, July 22. General projects are to be submitted on Monday, July 21, and remain there during the course of the week. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, the horse competition will be taking place. Rabbits, dairy and goats will all be shown on Thursday, pigs and sheep will be on Wednesday and beef and llamas on Friday.
It's fair time. Come out and enjoy the fair.