4-Hers, agriculture community in fair prep mode

Published 10:39 am Wednesday, August 10, 2011

by Neil Clark
Southampton County Extension Agent

The Franklin-Southampton County Fair is fun for everyone, but it holds extra anticipation for those involved in various 4-H projects and agriculture exhibits.

Many 4-H youth have been involved in creating their projects and exhibits for a year now. Whether breaking a steer, creating a work of art, or honing their talent skills, many months of preparation and hard-knocks learning experiences have taken place awaiting well-deserved recognition and perhaps a coveted blue ribbon.

Before the advent of TV reality shows and YouTube videos, the local county fair was the venue to compete and, for some, to move on to the state fair competitions. There are many different events and competitions for all ages and skill ranges whether in 4-H or not. Here are a few favorites.


Adults, maybe even more than the youth, get a kick out of the friendly competition of who can create the best apple pie, classic quilt, or locally-grown strawberry preserves.

There are over 80 classes of conserved foods and baked goods. Add photography, sewing, needlecraft, quilting, woodworking, pottery, basketry, painting, drawing and recycled materials art rounds out a large number of avenues to express your talent and creativity.


From bunnies to Boer goats, a passel of Southampton youth have been faithfully feeding, watering and working with their animals for months now with many personal goals being accomplished.

Some will even attain the goal of being grand champion. Though beyond the deadline to enter this year’s fair, if you are between the ages of 5 and 19, you may want to drop by the livestock barn and view the show and chat with this year’s exhibitors about getting involved with the livestock club for next year.

Livestock projects provide experiential development opportunities for youth to learn about animal agriculture, business, responsibility, critical thinking and communication skills. It is a great way to grow personally and professionally.


Field crops are the top economic driver for Southampton County and should be celebrated. In days prior to precision genetics, selection among the natural crosses and variation among crops assisted in crop improvement.

Even though much of this variation has been removed, cultural practices, presentation and local variables still factor together to create an ever-so-subtle comparison.

Likewise the fruits of the home gardener’s labors are classified into over 70 classes of fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants that provide for a competitive cornucopia. From muscadine grapes to walnuts to tomatoes to lima beans, each tasty treat is judged compared to standards within its variety.

Not every vegetable is at the peak of perfection during fair time, which presents challenges in some categories. Even if the normal fairgoer does not fully appreciate the “normal” vegetables that resemble the produce department at a supermarket, the oddity class offers some interesting specimens that are discussion pieces.


Next to the watermelon-eating contest, the scarecrow and veggie art contests are some of the wackiest events in the fair. Serious talent and serious creativity is involved, but also a certain amount of craziness and humor helps these contests become crowd favorites.

For the scarecrow contest, contestants are given a standard scarecrow head on a stick-figure pole and have a limited time to use clothes, accessories and a wad of straw to assemble the body. Scarecrows are then judged within classes such as most creative and most likely to scare a crow.

In the veggie art competition, youngsters exercise their creative, artistic, and engineering skills to turn cucumbers, radishes and spuds into artful masterpieces in a limited period of time.


One huge aim of the 4-H program is enhancing knowledge, skills and abilities of our youth in an applied manner. And one way these youth can pass this on and communicate what they’ve learned is by teaching others.

This is done by various means throughout the year, but expresses itself through various educational exhibits and displays at the fair. Also, 4-Hers can share information on how chickens are born, important elements of plant and animal care, or even personal strategies for overcoming stage fright.

Educational exhibits on varied topics compete for prize money just like the other 4-H projects.

These are some of the many 4-H and Ag-centric activities that you can participate in at the fair, not to mention the entomology, horseshoe, cornhole, tiny tots, talent and fair queen contests. The details, rules and regulations regarding each of these competitions are available in the Franklin/Southampton County Fair Premium Books available through the Southampton County Extension Office.

Call 653-2572 for more information.

NEIL CLARK is a Virginia agriculture extension agent, serving as Southeast District Forestry and Southampton interim. He can be reached at southeast@vt.edu.