TOLCHESTER - Little hands clamored to pet Oreo's soft head as Brianna Ashley-Pinder held up her 3-month old speckled goat for all to see on Saturday. She patiently explained how often she feeds him and his two siblings, what his favorite foods are, and how he likes to be petted.
Not even a drizzling and mucky final day of the 30th Kent County Fair could discourage 10-year-old Ashley-Pinder and her fellow 4-H'ers from doing what they do best: educating the public about agriculture.
"It's a fun experience," she said. Beth Hill, 4-H faculty extension assistant, said turnout was less than usual because of the rainy weather Saturday, but "considering all that, we were satisfied with attendance." "The kids did a great job overall. It was a really good fair," she said.
She said Saturday night's chicken barbecue dinner didn't sell out, an indicator of the less-than-usual attendance this year. Friday festivities on the other hand, such as the greased pig contest, had a better audience.
Although exact numbers haven't been tallied, Hill said the Saturday evening livestock and cake auctions were especially popular.
"The people who really wanted to be there came," she said. "Everyone was pleased overall." Ashley-Pinder was new to 4-H this year.
She initially wanted a cow, but her dad talked her and her two younger siblings into starting small with three tiny goats.
"After watching them do it every year, I wanted to try," Ashley-Pinder said. "I was nervous at first, but once I got here and got to know everyone, I was fine." Feeding her new pets three times a day is a serious responsibility, but Ashley-Pinder is a natural.
"It's fun to see them play and feed them," she said.
Hill said there are 137 boys and girls in 4-H this year, and many are new to farming and agriculture. Last year, 75 percent of 4-H members participated in the fair; Hill said the influx of new members means it probably won't be as high this year, but she's happy to see so many new faces.
Two new clubs, robotics and horses, joined 4-H in time for this summer's fair. Although the clubs weren't very involved in the festivities, Hill said members still came out and supported other participants.
Even 4-H'ers who weren't showing animals in the fair came out to the fourth annual Green and White Challenge, which culminated with a final tug-of-war on Sunday.
"If they have an entry or not, they can participate. They always look forward to that," Hill said.
For returning 4-H'ers, fair time is the highlight of the summer.
"Everyone here is a friend. I probably know almost everyone here," said 10-year-old Abby Smith as she swatted her pigs away from nibbling at passersby shoes. "Everybody here comes out and has a good time."
Smith has been in 4-H since she was 5 years old. Her six siblings are also active 4-H'ers, and she interacts with cows, horses and pigs every day on her family's farm.
According to Hill, family ties are an integral part of 4-H life.
"It's almost a requirement," she said. "Parents need to be there to support the kids. They need a lot of help, especially if they have more than one species."
4-H also fosters strong relationships among peers.
"You develop relationships among different age groups, which is unique to 4-H," Hills said. "You'll have a 16-year-old working with a 9-year-old on a project. The social dynamic is great."
Many young agriculturists see 4-H as more than a chance to win ribbons or catch up with friends; it's the beginning of a career. Ashley-Pinder, for example, said she wants to become a veterinarian, and Smith hopes to own a farm. "
Where 4-H shines is, with children being members over the long run, there's definitely a building of what we call life skills. There's public speaking, leadership, responsibility, cooperation, decision making, and creativity," Hill said. "The idea is for kids to come out with a well-rounded set of skills."