Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias By the time you read this, the Clay County Fair and Achievement Days will be in full swing here in Vermillion.

And perhaps you've heard the rather familiar comments that always seem to accompany this event.

People often lament that the fair isn't exactly a crowd pleaser.

It's always held during the hottest time of the summer, they'll complain.

They'll note that there hasn't been a carnival at the fair for years now.

The biggest draw often appears to be the demolition derby held every year, which, ironically, could be held any time of the year � it's not really your typical county fair event.

We so easily slip into a "there's nothing to do" mentality when we think of our local fair.

What we seem to so easily forget is that fair is a showcase for youth involved in 4-H.

In other words, all you people who complain (Wah! There's nothing to do at the fair!) � and you know who you are � need to realize something.

The fair really isn't about you. That's not to say you aren't welcome to participate. In fact, you're encouraged to wander about the fairgrounds every day, to see what's going on, to enjoy the unique fellowship of fairgoers.

The fair is about the 4-H'ers who have been busy for most of the summer, if not longer, preparing for this event and for the South Dakota State Fair.

It's so easy to overlook the 4-H aspect of the fair. Many of us "urbanites" here in Vermillion naturally assume 4-H is designed for farm kids.

That's not true, although the youth organization's century-long history is rooted in agriculture.

In the late 1890s and into the early 1900s, 4-H programs began throughout the country in response to young people and their need for a better agricultural education.

Boys and girls clubs were established to meet this need. This community club model engaged youth through "learning by doing."

Most states organized clubs outside of schools with parents serving as volunteer leaders and educators providing appropriate educational materials.

No one individual is credited with originating the 4-H program but rather the program was founded through collective efforts of several individuals over the course of few years.

In 1907 or 1908, the program's first emblem used nationally was designed by O. H. Benson as a three-leaf clover. It stood for head, heart, and hands. In 1911, Benson suggested that the fourth H should be hustle, and the 4-H design was adopted.

I can't help but wonder if that's where my 4-H club got its name. I am an alumnus of the Humboldt Hustlers of Minnehaha County.

Later O. B. Martin suggested that health replace hustle. The 4-H emblem has stood for head, heart, hands, and health ever since.

In 1912, Benson established federal-state-county programs through cooperative agreements, which tied the three entities of Extension work together. Twenty-eight such cooperative agreements between the Office of Farmer Cooperative Demonstration Work and the land-grant colleges promoted youth club work.

By 1912, 73,000 boys and 23,000 girls were enrolled in club work. At a meeting in 1912, participants urged the development of a uniform reporting form to show what each member was learning and doing. This consistent reporting method provided a common base for club work across the country.

This practice has stood the test of time. Clay County 4-H'ers still must turn in their "records" each year. Local clubs hold their monthly meetings, keep minutes, and report what they are up to with written reports to the Plain Talk.

When you visit the local fairgrounds Friday or Saturday, chances are you won't find a beehive of activity. County fairs, and the South Dakota State Fair, are faced with growing expenses and other challenges.

Thankfully, local business sponsors recognize the importance of this summer ritual, and help make the 4-H-related events and the county fair activities possible.

Our fair may be small and quiet. Don't get the wrong idea from that, however.

Our county's 4-H'ers have put in tons of hours of work preparing for this week.

Their efforts will be rewarded as they participate in the county fair.

That's really what matters.

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