Disabilities not a disadvantage at 4-H fair

EVART — The Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair is known for being centered on agriculture and youth participation. The local 4-H program attracts not only life-long members, but participants of all skill sets and abilities.

Bruce Reed and his daughter, Desiree, have been involved in the fair together for about nine years. While Desiree has special needs, they do not stop her from showing a variety of animals each season as well as entering creative projects into the exhibit building at the fair.

This year, Desiree showed several goats, rabbits and chickens at the fair. At 19 years old, she still has one more year left to participate, and said she definitely plans on continuing.

"We have a hobby farm over by Reed City," Reed said. "It started with rabbits and chickens and kind of went from there.

Reed said his family first acquired goats because his wife was having trouble eating normal dairy products, and goat milk was easier for her to digest. Since then, he said his daughter has grown to love interacting with the animals they raise together and enjoys taking part in the fair each year.

"Desiree really loves the animals," Reed said. "She's special needs, so it gives her something to do besides sitting inside. We do chores every night together."

This year, Desiree won Reserve Champion Market for one of her chickens, Best in Show and Grand Champion Single Fryer for two of her rabbits, and Reserve Champion Nubian for one of her goats.

Elsewhere at this year's fair, Bethany Maciejewski showed a goat, lamb and pig despite being physically disabled. Maciejewski, who requires a walker as a result of a condition from birth, has been participating in the fair for the last 11 years.

After watching her older sister show animals, Maciejewski got involved through the Tykes and Toddlers program for children ages 3 to 5.

"That's when I knew that I really wanted to do 4-H as a member," she said. "Goats are definitely my favorite. They're really easy to handle. Usually their tempers aren't too bad, but sometimes I'll get some that are not easy to work with."

Maciejewski puts in hours of work with her animals in order to perfect the art of showing with her walker, which can be difficult at times. Calm animals make her practice a little easier.

"Last year, I had a goat that, no matter how much I worked with it, continued to be stubborn," she said. "I think it was the first class that I had that day, and I fell because he jerked me so hard he pushed me off my feet. But usually, they're pretty good."

Maciejewski said she realized early on that each fair season would be more difficult than the one before. To compensate, she practices often with her parents and tries to learn new techniques to make showing animals easier.

This year, Maciejewski won Grand Champion Meat and Wool Breed and Best Home Grown for two of her goats.

"I knew what I would have to do in order to achieve what I wanted," she said. "I knew I had to get out there and work really hard, and that goes for all the animals, not just goats. I've had to learn to do it differently, because I've had the walker."

Being involved in 4-H has taught Maciejewski a lot of responsibility. She said participating in the fair each year has required her to put the time in every day and to learn to be accountable for her animals.

With four years left before she can no longer enter animals into the fair, Maciejewski said she is not sure how many years to plans to continue before she focuses on her future career instead. She said the fair is a perfect place for people with disabilities that might prevent them from participating in other activities, such as sports.

Whether a disability is physical or cognitive, the Osceola County Fair will do its best to accommodate anyone who wants to join, she said.

"I think if someone has a disability, no matter what it is, they can still be anything they want. It doesn't have to be 4-H, it can be anything," Maciejewski said. "It's a really good thing to get involved in. It's taught me so much."