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Editorial: 4-H fair exhibition of youth potential, talent

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The Johnson County fair steps off today with the annual parade through downtown Franklin. There will be tractors, trucks, floats and fun.

Then the fair itself opens its weeklong run Sunday.

The fair is a tradition in Johnson County. The first fair was staged in 1838 on land near today’s Martin Place in Franklin. The present fairgrounds in Franklin was acquired Dec. 10, 1867, by W.S. Webb, W.S. Ragsdale and W.J. Mathes of the Johnson County Stock Agricultural Association.

It has been a county fixture ever since, to the point that many families build their summer schedules around the fair, whether it is to show animals, enter projects or to volunteer.

But the fair is much more than a traditional social occasion or even a celebration of the county’s agricultural past and present.

Amid the food, fun, music and manic activity, it’s easy to forget that behind every 4-H project, whether it’s a model, an animal or a piece of pie, there’s a young person. Celebrating their accomplishments is why the fair is really staged.

The 4-H’ers develop skills in a variety of areas. They build self-esteem, motivation to succeed, setting and attaining goals, and self-confidence.

Each project requires the 4-H’er to do research and fill out a form that describes what was learned and what went into the project. This teaches the youngster to be thorough and detail-oriented.

They also learn how to win and how to lose graciously.

The 4-H program in Indiana is more than a century old. The youngsters in the program have changed a lot in that time.

In the beginning, nearly all were from farm families, and most of the skills they exhibited were related to agriculture and home economics. Today’s 4-H’ers are mostly from suburban areas and small towns. They are more likely to be involved in computers than in livestock.

Yet while the content might change, the skills they learn today are much like they were a century ago.

A livestock judge once opened his judging by addressing the audience. “Remember,” he said, “this is all about the kids. These livestock are just the entry ticket for the kids to get in.”

That message remains true today.

So head out and enjoy the fair. See old friends and make new ones. Ride the rides and eat the food.

But take a few minutes to walk past and admire the 4-H exhibits. At heart, they are what the Johnson County fair is really all about.

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