A day at the fair isn’t all cotton candy and midway rides.
For 4-H members, going to a fair means dark and early mornings, late nights, and plenty of hard work in between. There are stalls to keep clean, animals to show and care for, judges to meet, and questions from the public to be answered.
But ask any 4-H member and they’ll tell you there are also good times, and friendships that make the time pass quickly.
“A lot of my friends are from 4-H,” says Sarah Wiltshire, vice-president of the Chilliwack District’s Junior Council. “Certain people you only see at fairs, but they become good friends over the years.”
She’s just finished up a weekend at the Agrifair in Abbotsford. Days there started as early as 4 a.m., and ran until dark. She’s had just a few days of rest, and work, to prepare for the Chilliwack Fair at Exhibition Park. When the barns open there this morning, she’ll have been there for hours already, getting her project ready.
For those who don’t know much about 4-H, “project” can mean anything from a floppy-eared rabbit to a Holstein cow. This year, Wiltshire is showing a dairy cow.
“Her registered name is Susie,” Wiltshire says of her calf. Susie was born in September, stands four feet tall, and lives at an Agassiz farm owned by lifelong 4-Hers Ken and Debbie Schwaerzle. But Wiltshire, 17, lives in Yarrow.
So, how does that work?
What many people may not realize, Wiltshire says, is that you don’t have to live on a farm to have an agriculture project with 4-H. You just need access to a project, and a willingness to learn.
“When Ken gave me the opportunity to join his club, I was so happy,” she said, of becoming an Agassiz Rainbow 4H Club member. She’s new to dairy projects, but she’s a keen 4-H member with six years experience with the Chilliwack Rabbit 4-H Club.
“I’ve always wanted to do a different project, so this was a nice little change,” she said. She sold her three rabbits, knowing that Susie would be a big time commitment. But she wants to get as much farm and ag experience as possible, to help her along in her chosen career.
Wiltshire has one more year of high school left, and she plans to earn her Agricultural Tech diploma at UFV the following year. That will lead into a business administration program for agricultural management.
While she always knew she wanted to work with animals, it was her experience in 4-H that helped her pinpoint how she would fit into the world of agriculture.
“Animals have always been a big part of my life,” she says. “When I was little I thought I would be a veterinarian.”
Her time as a 4-H member is running out. She’s been counting down the years with dread since it became such an important part of her life. There are three years left until she hits the age limit of 21, and she plans to get the most out of them.
“4-H becomes a part of you,” she says. One day, she plans on becoming a club leader.
Wiltshire is one of about 155 youth attending the Chilliwack Fair with a 4-H club, and there are a dozen clubs signed up to take part.
They include Holsteins, dairy, and rabbit clubs. But 4-H is about more than just animals. A 4-H club can be built around almost any hobby, as long as there are six club members and a leader to make it all happen.
Lorill Britz is a third generation 4H club leader. She explains that while the organization just celebrated its 100-year anniversary two years ago, and has deep roots in agriculture, the program can be tailored to almost any hobby.
“There’s a lot of non-ag choices,” Britz says, including cooking, small engine repair, photography, and even a grandparents club.
Members are between the ages of 6 and 21 and leaders are 22 years or older. There are four age groups to choose from. Cloverbuds for 6 to 8 year olds, Junior Members for 9 to 12 year olds, and Senior Members for 13 to 19 year olds. There are even special projects for 20 to 21 year olds.
There are currently seven clubs in Chilliwack, Rosedale and Agassiz, which have projects on the go such as lamb, Holsteins, horses, dogs, dairy, swine, rabbits, crafts, gardening, photography, and clothing.
It’s the core program, full of lifeskills, that really benefit youth, Britz says.
“I’ve watched my own daughter with the public speaking,” she says. “The first year she read her cue cards, head down, and that was it. The next year, she lifted her head up, and the next year, she had her hands up and was more animated.
“Her teachers have noticed she can answer with confidence, and she can do a presentation,” Britz adds. “It’s terrifying for adults to do public speaking, and she can do it.”
Part of that is through the formal public speaking, but also through the interactions with judges and the public at fairs.
While taking a stroll through the 4-H barns at the Chilliwack Fair, Britz says, make sure to stop and talk to the 4-H members. They are prepped for the day and eager to answer your questions, whether it’s about a llama or a bunny rabbit, or any one of the displays they’ll have on site.
They’re all about halfway through the fair season, which kicked off with Maple Ridge, then the Agrifair. Chilliwack is the third, followed by the PNE. The season wraps up with the Agassiz Fall Fair in mid-September.
The 4-H barns open at 9 a.m. Friday through Sunday, with judging happening throughout each day.