Participation, attendance up at this year's fair

EVART — For a number of individuals who attended this year's Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair, simply finding a seat on the bleachers during some of the 4-H events was a task. Many resorted to standing while others carried in lawn chairs.

Attendance and participation have increased this year, according to Osceola County 4-H Coordinator Jake Stieg. 4-H membership this year reached 474, an increase of almost 50 youth, and three new clubs joined the ranks.

"Seeing foot traffic come through the barns, I can say that this year I have seen the most go through our horse barn, our dairy barn and swine barn," Stieg said. "For 4-H involvement, we're bursting at the seams."

When asked what is the cause of the crowds, he credits 4-H'ers taking on recruiting opportunities themselves.

"I think the youth are doing the recruiting for me, through school, bringing their friends to the fair, seeing what's going on," Steig said. "I can think of three individuals that were here last year just observing, but now they are 4-H participants because they are interested in what 4-H offers in leadership, life skills and animal science."

While this year's 4-H senior classes are small, more youth between the ages 10 to 14 are joining 4-H, followed by children ages 6 to 9.

"It looks very promising here for the fair and for 4-H," Stieg added. "For the future, I believe we're going to have larger classes coming in, especially with the juniors, because we're starting to see a lot of families with 4-H alumni coming back with their children. Every year it's going to be growing and growing. It's great to see the alumni coming back and it's great to see new faces."

The Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair not only attracts residents of Osceola County. The county's 4-H program has expanded to a wider area, covering the neighboring counties and beyond. Stieg said he believes families are having a positive experience when visiting the fair and are coming back to spread that experience to their children.

One of the newest 4-H members is 13-year-old Caila Kacel, from Reed City, who joined 4-H in December. Her friend, Clara Borntrieger, 19, gave her the gentle nudge into the program. Since joining, Kacel has made a number of new friends and taken part in fair events for the first time.

"I really wanted to come to the fair for a new experience," she said while sitting atop her horse. "I really want to come back next year."

Caila's mother, Linda, said 4-H has done wonders for her daughter.

"She's blossomed as a result of 4-H," Linda added. "The camaraderie has been really good and it's been a positive experience for everyone. We're going to keep this up as long as possible."

Despite the chilly weather conditions at the beginning of fair week, attendance was steady and increased as warmer weather appeared near the end. Stieg said he is thrilled with this year's fair and the number of people walking through the gates to see what events occur in the 4-H show ring.

"When it comes to the fair, the more foot traffic and participants from the community, the better the midway does, the better the dairy booth does," Stieg said. "All around, this has been a great, great year."