When you take in the exhibits at the 4-H fair next week, consider this: The animal shows and traditional cooking and sewing projects are still around, but the best ideas from popular websites and the best photos are on display too.
Generations of families have grown up spending decades showing sheep, cattle and horses at the Johnson County 4-H and Agricultural Fair. Their children will do the same.
The fair kicks off Sunday, and nearly 4,000 projects from more than 1,000 4-H kids countywide will be on display in exhibition halls at the fairgrounds. Leaders are starting to see a shift in the types of projects children are interested in.
More children are trying their hand at the photography project, likely because of the popularity of taking photos easily and quickly with a cellphone.
The technology shift is also showing up in sewing and recycled crafts projects, according to Ashley Schultz, 4-H youth development educator for Johnson County. Websites such as Pinterest are serving as idea-starters for 4-H’ers and making those projects more popular.
Their projects often reflect their real-life interests, Schultz said.
Fair-goers will see projects ranging from posters on shooting sports to third-graders showing massive cattle. Decorated cakes, needlecraft, furniture made of recycled items, towering Lego structures and clothing carefully sewed by a teen will be on display.
Lego projects have gained popularity over the past few years because of the popularity of the building blocks, Schultz said. Fair-goers will see castles, mansions, scenes and buildings built with the interlocking blocks.
Some 4-H’ers will carry on family traditions. Many youngsters will enter agriculture projects and show animals, just as their parents and grandparents did.
The increased popularity of other projects hasn’t diminished the number of families who show animals at the fair, Schultz said.
“(Showing) animals is a family decision,” she said.
When third-graders join 4-H, they often choose projects that their parents did, 4-H’ers said.
That decision makes it easier to get started in the program, 10-year 4-H’er Bailey Johnson said.
Projects that are popular for young 4-H’ers are ones that a grandparent or parent might have done. Sewing stays popular partly for that reason, Schultz said.
“If you’re going to sew, your parent is going to help you, or your grandma sews,” she said.
But 4-H’ers find ways to make projects their own, they said.
Johnson started out sewing and doing other projects but decided she wanted to shift her focus to showing horses and ponies.
In her first year, Erin Bush showed dairy heifers, made a Lego project and entered food preservation and baking.
In her 10 years in 4-H, the number of youngsters who bake cookies or frost a cake for their project has grown, she said.
“Food has always been very popular,” Bush said. “I mean, we get to eat our own product afterwards.”