Creative projects by youth in Mercer County helped transform the Howell Living History Farm into the 102nd Mercer County 4-H Fair.
Young people showcased their various talents, projects, activities and hobbies through their 4-H clubs during the 2021 Mercer County 4-H Fair. From July 31 to Aug. 1 visitors, Mercer County residents and families gathered for the fair, which spotlighted the power of youth.
The fair near Hopewell Township returned for its 102nd year after being cancelled in 2020, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Typically, planning for the fair starts in January, but this year with COVID-19 organizers did not have the go-ahead for the event until late May.
“We just had the last three months to pull this together. Luckily this is not the first time we have done it,” said Altaira Bejgrowicz, program associate of Mercer County 4-H. “This is a showcase for the kids and all the hard work that they do with their project areas. This is a chance to engage the public and explain what they are doing and really gives them the opportunity to enjoy what they have done and see other people react to it.”
She added that the fair is an important part of the community by giving people a chance to really look back at the county’s and state’s agricultural roots and reflect on a simpler time.
“Technology is advancing farming and agricultural,” Bejgrowicz said. “With 4-H we started in agriculture and started morphing into other sections such as health, technology and have clubs that are innovative in many ways to solve everyday problems on top of what we started with. Agriculture is still very important and still very relevant and yet we are still able to change.”
The two-day event included 4-H public exhibits in the barn, 4-H STEM tent (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with projects, an animal tent, Howell Living History Farm animals, an entertainment tent, steam engine rides, pony rides and live music, an archery range, blacksmithing and horse-drawn hayrides.
“Just getting back to normalcy is key here. What greater example than to see 3,000 people in this space coming together?” said Aaron Watson, executive director of the Mercer County Park Commission. “To see the diversity in the crowd just delights my heart.”
One of the Mercer County 4-H clubs taking part in the two-day fair had been the Hot Shots Shooting Sports Club. The club, appearing for its first time at the fair, set up an archery range in the backfield of the farm for the weekend event.
“I enjoy making new friends. Archery teaches me patience and how skilled I am,” said John Sopko, a 10-year-old Hot Shot club member. “I have not found something in my life yet that I am very good at and I think I did. I just started three weeks ago. I do plan on keeping this up when I am older, maybe if I am good enough to join the Olympics one day.”
Eighteen-year-old Jonas Peter, who is also part of the club, has been doing archery since he was 10 years old.
“It is about meeting new people and teaching the kids. I love working with them. Their faces light up when they hit the target,” he said. “It is all about the zen, breathing and meditation. The 4-H fair broke my expectations. Since we were in the backfield I thought people might not come here as much, but we have had more people then we can handle. I really glad with the turnout that we had.”
Currently, the club consists of eight youth members, but has openings for more. The youngest involved have to be entering fourth grade. The club practices every Saturday at the Trenton AOH on Kuser Road in Hamilton.
“They set up on the soccer field, so we do not lose arrows,” organizational leader Dan Griffin said. “The club is driven by the kids and once the democratic process takes over and they want to shoot twice a week, we will come up with a way to do it, or if they want to shoot an air rifle or shotgun we will find a way to do it. It is up to the kids. They guide what they want the club to be.”
Across the creek from the farm’s backfield, 4-H STEM projects from the Robbinsville Innovation 4-H club were on display inside of a tent for the fair. The projects included an automatic self-watering plant and also a created water meter.
Sidharth Sandeep, a club member, had created a self-driving RCA car with sensors.
“My dad pushed me to make it self-driving. I have always liked RCA cars,” he said. “The motor is controlled by an electronic speed control.”
In the animal tent at the fair, Jacob Callanan from Clever Clover 4-H club watched and taught fair attendees about the goats and Clever Clover.
“We have all the different 4-H members here sharing with the public about all the information we have about our animals. It feels great to finally be back with the public and talking with them,” he said. “I want people to take away from visiting our tent that farmers are necessary and we need farmers to survive. Also, that goats are not dirty animals and are just like dogs.”