FALMOUTH — Annika Baas, 14, and Ashlee Aardema, 16, aren’t your average high schoolers.
“We’re not normal,‘ Annika said. “My first word was combine.‘
Both girls also might be a little more motivated than some of their peers and definitely have a passion for agriculture. They are on the junior board for the Missaukee Agriculture Youth Show, a fair that runs from Friday, July 26, to Friday, Aug. 2, this year.
Kids had to send out letters encouraging people and businesses to come out to the fair and Annika said she had handwritten and delivered at least 12 letters.
“That’s why she’s on the junior fair board,‘ the board’s advisor and 4-H club leader Katiane Myers laughed.
The 4-H and the fair are two different organizations that come together once a year for the fair, with 4-H building the fundamentals for kids at the fair, Myers said.
However, the youth show keeps growing while 4-H numbers are seeing a slight decline this year. Does that mean less kids are interested in agriculture?
4-H tries to find volunteers
Brandie Sigler, 4-H program coordinator for Missaukee County who also helps organize programs for the Wexford County 4-H program, says they have seen a decline in numbers for both counties.
She said club enrollments in Missaukee County have declined a little bit and said it has to do with 4-H internal staffing changes.
There also has been a small decrease in the number of animal project-based clubs. Sigler said there is no longer a horse or pig club in Missaukee County even though they really do need a pig one.
She said it is hard to find a volunteer willing to go through the MSU Extension process to become a volunteer. They run two types of the background checks and have to hear from two references along with undergoing a personal interview and other steps.
The volunteers have to be someone that can be trusted to be around kids. But because of this process parents can trust that these people are safe and have been vetted, Sigler said.
She doesn’t want to paint it as a negative for 4-H and said they have volunteers who have been there for years. They just need to find community members willing to be dedicated for the other clubs. And it’s not that the youth interest isn’t there.
Sigler said if you get a hold of previous records, pigs are the No. 1 choice for projects in Missaukee County. For example, the market livestock auction at the Missaukee County Agricultural Youth Show starts at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, but there are so many pigs, around 85 or higher, that it will go on until after midnight.
“That’s a lot of pigs,‘ she said.
As for the decrease in enrollment, kids have a lot of options nowadays when it comes to clubs and activities. Animal projects take a significant amount of time. A pig has to be purchased by Jan. 1 and a steer can be a multi-year process.
So 4-H is asking a kid to commit that type of responsibility by participating in such a club, Sigler said.
However, there are definitely benefits to doing the clubs and kids can bring in decent profits that can equal the same amount as doing a summer job. So if someone doesn’t have the time for a job they might still have time to take care of an animal.
“They have to look at this like a business opportunity for them,‘ she said.
Sigler is hoping that the decline in numbers is a short-term anomaly. She thinks that agricultural attention in the county will bring the numbers back up.
4-H tries to meet kids where they’re at
Michigan 4-H is looking at ways to get involved in other hands-on learning opportunities and showing kids that there aren’t just plows and cows for 4-H, she said.
They are trying to start a rifle club for kids and there is already a strong archery club in Missaukee County.
4-H is reaching out in ways it hasn’t before and trying to make clubs different and more like short-term commitments, Sigler said.
Hopefully the numbers will level off and potentially build, but either way Sigler sees 4-H growing in Missaukee County.
As for Wexford County, it is not as agriculturally focused as Missaukee County and they have also seen a decrease in club enrollment there, but she would like to see them grow.
She said they are hoping to get people more involved in animals, although 4-H can be anything, like sports.
“Of course we never want to see our roots in agriculture and animal projects disappear,‘ she said, but they are also looking at other ways to encourage kids to participate in 4-H.
So there might be a one-day class so parents don’t have to try and transport their kids multiple days.
4-H will be doing another drone club on Aug. 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wexford County 4-H will also be raising and tagging Monarch butterflies Aug. 7 and 10.
They will meet and teach kids about butterflies. It is part of a larger study nationwide so they will be a small part of a much larger effort. To be part of something bigger is what 4-H does, getting kids involved in something bigger than themselves and their local areas, Sigler said.
On Aug. 17 there will also be agriculture Olympics at the Northern District Fair. There will be fun, mildly agricultural related kid games and it is open to everyone. Kids can show up before 10 a.m. and sign up and be put on a team. Afterward they get hot dogs and chips for no cost, Sigler said.
She thinks overall that 4-H is having positive momentum. Even though on paper it is declining, they are working on having it continue growing and having a positive impact on the community.
How the Missaukee County Youth Show started the junior board
Myers said there are three girls on the board this year. They had five kids on it last year, but some aged out.
She said they are basically responsible for planning activities during fair week. They do free activities for kids like the pet parade and they’ll learn how the fair works on a smaller scale.
They have fun doing it and they learn responsibility so they hopefully take over the fair board when they’re older. And obviously kids know what kids want, she said.
She brought the idea up to the adult board and said she would make sure the junior board stayed in the guidelines. Myers felt it was important because the kids felt like they needed more involvement and wanted their ideas heard.
“And the fair is all about the kids,‘ she said.
She said there had to be an organized way to get the youth involved and have a positive spin on it, not just have them complaining on Facebook about not being heard.
“If you want to make a difference you have to actually make the difference,‘ she said.
Without the next generation getting involved in the fair, it dies out. The parents get older and then they can’t physically do it anymore so the kids have to pick it up, she said.
Myers said it would be nice to get more kids interested, not necessarily just interested in the animals but in the leading as well.
“I think it’s refreshing to see the kids who want to be involved and want to be leaders,‘ she said.
The future generations and agriculture
Annika said in the past years lots and lots of people have been coming to the fair.
“It’s more and more new people every year,‘ she said.
She was interested in being on the board because she has always loved animals and knows friends who did it last year. They did an amazing job, so she wanted to be part of that.
Ashlee said Myers texted her and asked if she wanted to do it. She did. She’s in the agroscience program through Cadillac career technical center and said she is “passionate about agriculture, period.‘
Ashlee said she’s different from the kids she goes to school with in Houghton Lake and is one of the only kids interested in agriculture. In her grade she’s the only girl that hunts and fishes out of a class of about 90 people, she said.
She said they did a presentation on animals and agriculture and the kids didn’t understand a whole lot of it.
Her goal is to get younger youth involved. She tries to talk to them about it and get them interested.
Annika said she has multiple friends who do the youth show in Falmouth with both the animals and the indoor stuff like photography and baking.
“They all get involved,‘ she said.
She said she thinks the youth show will continue to thrive. The two most important things are helping the youth and getting involved, getting them away from home and their phones.
Her favorite part of the fair is “seeing all my friends and encouraging each other to do well.‘
“It just brings everyone together,‘ she said.