You don’t have to be from a farm to participate in 4-H

Alyssa Brown, of Spring Mills, cleans her chicken’s feet in preparation for a show at the Grange Fair in 2014.
Alyssa Brown, of Spring Mills, cleans her chicken’s feet in preparation for a show at the Grange Fair in 2014. Centre Daily Times, file

The poultry competition is back at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair after it was canceled last year because of the 2015 outbreak of avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu.

With threat levels down, Centre County 4-H poultry club leader Patti Mauk said this year’s students will show chickens and ducks they raised throughout the year.

There are 22 students involved in the poultry club, Mauk said.

They have the chance for their bird to be judged individually or against others in its category, and to sell the bird they raised.

“We’re glad it’s back but not having it last year forced us to be creative,” Mauk said.

In place of showing the birds, students at last year’s fair made wooden chicken and ducks, decorated cages the birds normally would have been housed in and made posters — and held mini information sessions — on how to keep flocks safe.

“We just had to tap into a different side, but it was still a success,” Mauk said.

The Grange Fair is the highlight of the year for 4-H participants.

Centre County 4-H program assistant Skylar Peters said it’s the biggest opportunity for students to showcase their work and sell their product.

“Part of the process is allowing them to work with buyers in all aspects of the process,” Peters said. “They reach out to potential buyers, or from those who are regulars, send them letters about what they can expect this year, and it comes full circle when they send ‘thank you’ letters after the sale. It’s building good relationships, while learning everyday life skills,” Peters said.

Peters oversees the junior livestock part of 4-H where students bring their animal projects to the fair, and show and sell hogs, dairy and beef cattle, rabbits, birds and more.

“It’s a culmination of a yearlong project where they are judged and can then market their animals,” Peters said.

4-H is a youth development organization for 8- to 18-year-olds.

Centre County 4-H has about 500 students.

Through the organization, many students compete in livestock and farm animal competitions, but Peters said “it’s not just for kids on the farm.”

“There’s something for everyone,” she said.

4-H community clubs allow students to participate in other activities like sewing, cooking, robotics, photography and more.

“Whether they’re showing their animals or working on other projects, the main goal and end result is to boost confidence and learn things that can’t always be found in the classroom,” Peters said.

Community club members and their projects can be found in the youth building near the grandstand, while the agriculture arena and nearby barns will be the location for the livestock shows.

4-H students eligible to participate in the Grange Fair must be active members.

Peters said they should attend about 60 percent of annual meetings, complete a community service project, document their work and attend management training.

“We want to provide the best and give them an opportunity to learn at the same time,” Peters said.

Mauk, who also oversees a 4-H community club, said a wrap-up meeting is held in September after the fair where participants debrief on the pros and cons of this year’s event and activities.

By February, students, with their club leader, prepare for the next Grange Fair.

“It’s hard to put into words how important the Grange Fair is,” Mauk said. “They learn leadership, public speaking, social skills and so much more that comes on a whim. ... It’s a beneficial thing for kids who have been with 4-H their whole life, and those who are new to the program just because of the things you can learn that take you into the real world.”

The Grange Fair will include a 4-H and FFA discovery session from 5-7 p.m. Aug. 23 to recruit more people into the clubs.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo