We brought Jackson to his first County Fair when he was 16 months old. I don’t even think we rode the rides. He just loved the livestock.

Every year, the big draw has been the livestock area. The livestock area is all about 4-H. (Yeah, there are the Future Farmers of America too, but most of the animals belong to 4-H.) Jackson has wanted to join 4-H since he was 3. We were told that he could join when he was 5. Well, he turned 5, and I tried to find the information. I got to the state 4-H web site, which said our county office was in Pleasant Hill. So I emailed them a few times. Nothing. At the fair when he was 5, I was told I should be in the Claycord group, but Claycord said I should be in Brentwood. Then last year, one of the girls in my Publications class was in 4-H. She introduced us to Brenda, who is the adult leader of Delta-Diablo 4-H, and I finally got in touch with Brenda in October 2012. Fortunately, the 4-H year was just starting, and registration was still open. Our first meeting was November 2012.

To join 4-H, you must be at least 5-years old. In our club, there’s one 5-year old, who is also the Rabbit Project leader’s daughter. Then, there’s Jackson, age 7. Then, there are a bunch of 10-year olds, and several more teenagers. Fortunately, everyone is very nice to the younger kids. Most of the adults are really welcoming as well.

I suppose the main draw to 4-H is the ability to raise one or more animals. When you’re in Primary (under 9), you can raise only some of the types of animals – rabbit, dog, poultry, pocket pets, guinea pigs – the small animals. Basically, you have to wait ’til you’re 9 to raise the big animals (like sheep, goat, horse, cow, pig). Jackson chose rabbit, which is how we ended up with Zella, a mini lop who has a pedigree. Yes, Zella is a show rabbit. (Insert eye roll here.)

The 4-H year really culminates in our County Fair. When you have an animal in the Fair, you spend all of your time at the Fair. And there’s no “the” anymore, when you’re in 4-H. It’s just “Fair.” “Are you going to Fair?” “What are you showing at Fair?” Some people camp at Fair, which Jackson found amazingly cool. We did not camp. I do not camp. There will be no camping for me. I will post more about our four days at Fair very soon (and include some precious pictures). I very much enjoyed getting to know everyone better. Before Fair, I don’t think I’d said more than 3 words to Anna, who leads the projects for most of the bigger animals. By the end of Fair, Jackson was best friends with her younger daughter and Anna was excited at the thought of getting Jackson to raise a sheep.

For me, the most awesome part of Fair embodies the best of 4-H. Two girls were in charge of cooling down the goats and pigs. (It was well over 90 degrees F for the entire weekend, and animals need to be properly cared for.) Jackson and one of the 10-year old girls wanted to help. We all trekked over from the camp site just across the creek to the barns where the animals are kept. Jackson actually walked a goat over to the animal showers and helped wash goats. He walked back. A bunch of fairgoers oohed and aahed over the Nigerian goats, which are like pygmy goats. As they were asking questions about 4-H of the older girls, Jackson was climbing in between the pens, petting the goats. OK, sometimes he got a little enthusiastic with the petting, but his heart was in the right place. And the girls were great with him.

It hit me then, that what Jackson had wanted since he was 16-months old was to be able to do just what he was doing now – belong. He wanted to belong in the barn, with the animals and the 4-H kids. He wanted to be the one who knew the animals, who could pet them without being told “no,” who could even answer questions about them. As I saw him climbing between the pens, I realized that this really was a dream come true for him. Because I’m his mom, it was a dream come true for me too. It almost made me cry.

Spending so much time with the 4-Hers at Fair, seeing how happy Jackson was, seeing that he belongs there, all of it has made me want to be more involved with 4-H. To that end, next year, I’m leading the Drama Project. Although 4-H is primarily associated with animals, we do a lot more than that. Apparently, one of those things can be Drama, and a bunch of kids wanted to see a Drama Project. Wish me luck…

And if you want to know more about 4-H, specifically Delta-Diablo 4-H, I would be happy to hear from you!


6 thoughts on “4-H

  1. I love 4-H. I worked for the extension office in NH during grad school. Their food program is awesome! I look forward to more 4-h stories, so that I can live vicariously thru your son!

    So where does the large animal live if you don’t have the space? (Sounds like you live in a neighborhood and the large animal wouldn’t live on your property.)

    • The goats, sheep, and pigs live at the project leader’s house. One person leads all of those projects.
      I think the cows live at that project leader’s house too.
      The horses are boarded somewhere close by.
      It’s good to know NH has 4-H. That’s Jackson’s main concern – if we ever move back east, the place has to have 4-H. 🙂

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