The Tolland County 4-H Fair got off to a bustling start last night and is gearing up for a weekend full of livestock shows and family fun.
Visitors strolled through pens containing animals as varied as chickens, ducks, llamas, goats, pigs and cattle, with folk music playing in the background. Altogether, there was a great sense of community as current 4-H members debuted their year-long projects to alumni, volunteers and their mentors.
“It’s nice to be back and see new 4-H members showing their hogs,” said former member Megan Perkins. Perkins, who used to show a variety of animals as an East Windsor resident, traveled from North Stonington to attend the fair.
Maryann Fusco-Rollins, the extension educator for 4-H and for the University of Connecticut Youth Development program, said that the fair is an important milestone for 4-H members honing their agricultural skills.
“We don’t have rides; it’s not about the ribbons,” she said, explaining that the focus is truly on learning and exhibiting hard work. “It’s really about the 4-H center."
Fusco-Rollins explained that the current members have been working on their project for a year, with many leasing an animal from local farmers to learn how to care completely for the livestock.
The projects, which range from showing animals, to growing vegetables and building tractor engines, will be judged this weekend and may go on to qualify for competition at the Big E Fair.
But the ribbons simply scratch the surface for most members, who also learn the value of community service and public speaking as 4-H members. Fusco-Rollins said that she’s particularly proud watching the children explain their projects with confidence to curious visitors.
“They’re fearless, because they start young,” she said. “They’re so poised."
Kirsten Krause, 11, who showed goats, llamas and more at this year’s fair, said that she takes much more from the program than a couple of ribbons.
“It’s about spending time with your animals,” she said, surrounded by her fellow 4-H friends and animal handlers. She added that she has learned not only about livestock, but friendship and responsibility.
According to Fusco-Rollins, the Tolland County 4-H fair is celebrating its 69th anniversary, and about 2,000 people are expected to stop by and enjoy the festivities.
On Saturday, enjoy the popular chicken barbecue and a performance from the Stone Canyon band. Visitors can also watch a magic show featuring magician Peter James and give the Seat Belt Convincer a try.
On Sunday, previous contest winners will compete in the animal handlers premiere show. The winners will test their skills with animals that they have never taken care of before.
The is located on the fairgrounds - the Tolland County Agricultural Center - on Route 30 in Vernon near the Tolland line. Admission is $8 per car, $5 for walk-ins and $15 for a weekend pass.
The fair is open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.