Mercer County 4-H Fair retains aspects of bygone agricultural fairs

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Youngsters sing with Ray Owen during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Patrons enjoy square dancing during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Mid-afternoon clouds complete the landscape during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Patrons walk along the trail during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Patrons enjoy a hay ride during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Raphael Lockhart, 6, of Yardley PA., and volunteer Rachael Ewing, 16, of Pittstown, work the archery range during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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This steer responded to know his name was "chuck" during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Honey bees work the hive during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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This horse caught someone talking behind his back during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Joshua Heston, 3 1/2, creates giant bubbles with his dad Jerry, while Peggy and Maria, 2 1/2 look on during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Visitors shuck corn during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Patrons check out exotic pigeons during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Odin Briggs, 1 1/2, of Lambertville, splashes during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Daniel Lapidow heats up the iron during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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This steer replied "aw shucks" when complimented about his horns during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Youngsters prepare for the pie eating contest during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Patrons head up to the barn during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Rob Flory drives his oxen "John" (L) and "Jim" down the trail during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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A hay ride makes its way down the path during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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"Blossom", an 8 year donkey and "Boomer", just 1 week old, graze during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Rob Flory drives his oxen "John" (L) and "Jim" down the trail during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Sawyer Spagnoli, 7, and his sister Vienna, 11, feed the hens during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Sheep enjoy an afternoon snack during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Tigerlily <>Lakis, 6, of Phoenixville, PA, wins the pie eating contest during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Nell Riddlesperger, 2, of Hopewell, and her dad James, come face to face with "Tom" during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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(L-R) Kenny Bronson, 11, of Bristol Pa., Sawyer Spagnoli, 7, and his sister Vienna, 11, feed the hens during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Youngsters make their way around the straw maze during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Youngsters gaze in amazement at the bubbles of George Pregano during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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This steer shared a funny joke with our photographer during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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Patrons check out various exhibits during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
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  1 / 30 
Youngsters sing with Ray Owen during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  2 / 30 
Patrons enjoy square dancing during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  3 / 30 
Mid-afternoon clouds complete the landscape during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  4 / 30 
Patrons walk along the trail during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  5 / 30 
Patrons enjoy a hay ride during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  6 / 30 
Raphael Lockhart, 6, of Yardley PA., and volunteer Rachael Ewing, 16, of Pittstown, work the archery range during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  7 / 30 
This steer responded to know his name was "chuck" during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  8 / 30 
Honey bees work the hive during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  9 / 30 
This horse caught someone talking behind his back during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  10 / 30 
Joshua Heston, 3 1/2, creates giant bubbles with his dad Jerry, while Peggy and Maria, 2 1/2 look on during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  11 / 30 
Visitors shuck corn during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  12 / 30 
Patrons check out exotic pigeons during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  13 / 30 
Odin Briggs, 1 1/2, of Lambertville, splashes during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  14 / 30 
Daniel Lapidow heats up the iron during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  15 / 30 
This steer replied "aw shucks" when complimented about his horns during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  16 / 30 
Youngsters prepare for the pie eating contest during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  17 / 30 
Patrons head up to the barn during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  18 / 30 
Rob Flory drives his oxen "John" (L) and "Jim" down the trail during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  19 / 30 
A hay ride makes its way down the path during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  20 / 30 
"Blossom", an 8 year donkey and "Boomer", just 1 week old, graze during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  21 / 30 
Rob Flory drives his oxen "John" (L) and "Jim" down the trail during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  22 / 30 
Sawyer Spagnoli, 7, and his sister Vienna, 11, feed the hens during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  23 / 30 
Sheep enjoy an afternoon snack during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  24 / 30 
Tigerlily <>Lakis, 6, of Phoenixville, PA, wins the pie eating contest during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  25 / 30 
Nell Riddlesperger, 2, of Hopewell, and her dad James, come face to face with "Tom" during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  26 / 30 
(L-R) Kenny Bronson, 11, of Bristol Pa., Sawyer Spagnoli, 7, and his sister Vienna, 11, feed the hens during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  27 / 30 
Youngsters make their way around the straw maze during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  28 / 30 
Youngsters gaze in amazement at the bubbles of George Pregano during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  29 / 30 
This steer shared a funny joke with our photographer during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN
  30 / 30 
Patrons check out various exhibits during the 4H fair at the Howell Living History Farm, on July 28SCOTT FRIEDMAN

The first Mercer County 4-H Fair, held on the grounds of Princeton High School in 1919, featured displays of chickens, pigs, rabbits and vegetables raised by young 4-H club members.

Fast forward to the 100th annual Mercer County 4-H Fair, which was held July 28-29 at Howell Living Farm, Hopewell Township, and club members still showed off their prized rabbits, chickens and vegetables – along with exhibits of their photography, arts and crafts, and needlework projects.

While the range of 4-H club members’ entries has evolved over the past century, what has not changed is the goal of the annual 4-H fair – to showcase the club members’ projects and to increase boys’ and girls’ interest in joining the 4-H Club program, said Chad Ripberger, the Mercer County 4-H agent.

The abbreviation “4-H” stands for head, heart, hands and health, which represents the core values of independence, belonging, mastery and generosity. The 4-H program symbol is a four-leaf clover.

“(The club members) develop a sense of independence, a sense of belonging and serving the community,” Ripberger said.

The 4-H program is open to children in grades one through 12, and one year past high school. There are animal clubs, art clubs, community service and leadership clubs, and nature clubs.

The Mercer County 4-H Fair is the oldest 4-H fair in New Jersey and grew out of agricultural fairs that were popular in the 19th century, Ripberger said. The fairs aimed to bring the newest farming techniques and practices to farmers, he said.

But back to the Mercer County 4-H fair. Since its inception in 1919, the fair has moved from place to place around the county. It moved to the county-owned Howell Living Farm in 2008.

While the 4-H club members’ exhibits were central to the fair, there were plenty of activities for children to sample during the two-day fair, including a hay ride in a horse-drawn wagon.

In one tent, children could try to milk a goat – a wooden replica, not a real one – and they could shear wool off a (fake) sheep while 4-H club members watched and guided them. Visitors could learn what to feed a rabbit (hint, carrots and lettuce are treats, not the core of a rabbit’s diet).

Young visitors could go for a pony ride, or they could have their face painted. They could even have a green 4-H symbol tattooed on their arm or hand. Temporary, of course.

One of the more popular events was the pie-eating contest, but with a trick. Contestants had to eat a small slice of blueberry pie without holding it. They had to keep their hands behind their back.

“Ready, set, go. This is an important skill. Lick, lick, lick, keep it going, keep it going,” Ripberger said as he encouraged the young contestants, their faces smeared with blueberry pie filling.

Lambertville resident Kori Briggs was one of many visitors to the fair, along with her 18-month-old son, Odin. While most children and their families checked out the 4-H club exhibits, Odin had other ideas.

Odin made it quite clear he wanted to play in a stream that runs through Howell Living Farm. He sat on the bank of the stream, and sometimes in it,  and tossed pebbles into the water.

Well, maybe next year he’ll be a little more interested in the fair.