By Liz Magee
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer
The fair is self-contained. It makes its money through a host of sponsors, said Patrick Buchen, manager of the Ingham County fair. Businesses like to sponsor it because they benefit from the exposure since attendance is more than 60,000 people, he said.
Fair participants are primarily the Ingham County 4-H groups and Future Farmers of America members, but it is open to any Ingham County youth up to age 18. Betty Jo Nash, Ingham County’s 4-H extension executive said, 4-H is a youth development program whose goal is to teach the youth skills that will help them succeed.
“People have many misconceptions about 4-H and the fair. (…) People think that the fair is the end-all-be-all of the 4-H experience. But it is not the entire purpose of why 4-H exists. Definitely, the two organizations would not exist without each other. It’s a mutual relationship,” Nash said.
Similarly, Buchen said, “We’re not specifically a 4-H fair, because that would be discriminatory against any youth that wants to participate here. We work in conjunction with 4-H, though. The 4-H council helps us set up policy and all of the various elements of competition on the fairgrounds and then in return the fair supports all of its goals and missions.”
The youth who compete are presented with opportunities to learn communication, responsibility, parliamentary procedure and interviewing.
“The fair still serves as a Mecca for educating young people,” Buchen said.
4-H is not, however, an organization whose only discipline is education; it also tries to make sure the youth have fun.
“My favorite part? There are a lot of them. I would have to say, though, watching the people leave having a good time, especially the kids. Also watching the kids compete and win because they work so hard on their projects,” said Michelle Conarton, the Ingham County Fair executive secretary.
“The most important thing is that they walk away with confidence and recognition,” Nash said.