Photos by rich corozine
The Ulster County Fair was held once again last week at its home since 1967, the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz. There was a lot to do — pig racing, jugglers, a draft horse show, wool spinning and weaving demos, tractor competitions, dog drills, a livestock auction, fireworks, wood carving, a sheriff’s K-9 demo and much more.
But if you really wanted to get a feel of what the Ulster County Fair is all about, you needed to head to the barns. There you found 4-H kids like 19-year-old Savannah Baker showing her blue-ribbon Holstein, Bertha; six-year-old Adeline Delessio and her Buff Brahma chicken, Lucille; 11-year-old Dominique Arnez and Squishy the rabbit; 17-year-old Garrett Igoe and his 15-year-old buddy Brendan Woolsey, shaving Mr. White, Garrett’s Shropshire Lamb; 16-year-old Amelia Schlicting shaving her Lamark Goat, Kiss-Me-Kate; 10-year-old Paige and seven-year-old Jake Lawlor with their baby Nigerian Dwarf Goat, Diablo; plus countless others that have put time and energy into the care of these animals. And all of them off of family farms throughout the Hudson Valley.
But as satisfying as that kind of animal care is, that isn’t all the 4-H has to offer kids from five-to-19. The 4-H has engaged the times as well. Melanie Forstrom, the program director for Ulster 4-H, talks about the researched-based mission of the growing club: “We have three main areas that we work in…the first is healthy living — training teens to eat well, stay active, who then go into the schools to train other kids to acquire these life skills. Like civic engagement. The main focus is to be responsible, show leadership, career readiness, developing solid relationships in all that they do.” And Forstrom notes the Stream Team that helps in career readiness and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Capital Days, “where the kids meet and spend time with our state representatives in Albany. There is also the DEP and job shadowing, where Department of Environmental Protection workers mentor the kids as they work with them.” The final area is the STEM Program, “which is Science, Technology, Engineering, Math,” says Forstrom, and where the animal-care 4-Hers are educated about not only relating to their animals, but “everything about their animals, including diseases, it’s a kind-of ‘Hey, tell me all about your animal’ science program.”
“It’s all about educating, with lots of feedback for the kids,” says Forstrom, who also notes that 4-H is offering a TOP Program in the inner cities. “These are after-school programs that come from out of our STEM program, with an emphasis on nature-based learning and observation. The inner city kids usually thrive out in nature. They can’t get enough of it.” Forstrom notes that there are 250 kids in 4-H club programs in schools, with a total of 1,300 kids involved in various ways (“We have a lot of volunteers for this,” says Forstrom, pointing around the 4-H building at the young kids making milk-shakes, selling crafts, providing information to all who ask). Forstrom is also involved in the funding for 4-H, getting some from the county and some private organizations. “Right now we’re trying to secure a $220,000 grant for our Healthy Living program.”
But to someone like Savannah Baker, who’s (Big) Bertha had just won a blue ribbon, it’s just all about the animals. She’s been a 4-H-er since she was six (“I was a Clover Bud,” she says, smiling) and has worked on the Van Aken Farm in Stone Ridge getting the cows ready for the fair. “This is my last official year with 4-H and I’m going to SUNY Ulster (she’s an art major) this year, but I’m sure I’ll be back next year as a volunteer. It’s just something I love. It’s a family tradition…My mom did it when she was a kid, my older sister has done it and I want my kids, when I have them, to also be a part of this.”
So, in case you missed it this year, next time head to the barns friends and neighbors; Bertha, Lucille, Mr. White, Kiss-Me-Kate, Squishy, Diablo and the rest of our animal “cousins” will be there showing their stuff.