While the Skagit County Fair is exciting for all attendees, for the 4-H and FFA members it’s the pinnacle event of their summer. After missing out last year, Jaelynn VanValkenburg is excited to be back. When asked about what excited her most, she answered: “Everything! Just having a fair is so exciting! The friends, the showing, meeting new people, talking with the public, yep everything!”
11-year-old Jaelynn is in her third year of 4-H. It’s something she got into because of her mom, who not only did 4-H and FFA, but is now a 4-H leader. “I became a 4-H leader as soon as I aged out of 4-H,” explains Kristen Hinton, Jaelynn’s mom. She was an FFA member throughout high school and joined 4-H as a senior. “At the time, my mom was the 4-H leader and definitely ready to step down,” adds Kristen. “She was a great mentor as well as my past leaders so it was a hard act to follow in their footsteps. I wanted to give back to an organization that helped shape the person I am today.”
“I got into it more when I learned how much fun 4-H was,” adds Jaelynn about being a third generation 4-Her. “I took off and now here I am three years later!” She started out with goat 4-H, after her 4-H leader gave her a bottle baby kid when Jaelynn was 8.
“After that for a year I begged my parents to buy me some goats, Boer goats of course,” she adds. “We ended up buying three, a mom (doe) and her two babies one boy and one girl. The boy was my market goat for the Skagit County Fair. That started me off and now I have 13 goats!”
In addition to her herd of Boer goats, Jaelynn also has a calf named Annie that she got from her grandfather as an orphan. Her grandpa has a Hereford and angus commercial cow and calf operation. In 4-H, all livestock animals are judges on conformation and muscling, Kristen explains. “The females we keep in hopes of reproducing to create more market animals,” she adds. While the boys go to the market auction after the fair, where they are bid on by families and businesses. The money goes to the 4-Her, who has learned about raising food as well as business and marketing skills. Many 4-Hers go out and solicit bids even before the County Fair starts.
And then there’s Sparky. Sparky is Jaelynn’s 7-year-old quarter horse. “His color is a golden palomino and he’s really cool because he gets dappled in the winter,” Jaelynn explains. Though she is in horse 4-H as well, she does not compete, as she hasn’t had the time. But she and her mom both compete in mounted shooting, where you shoot at balloons while navigating a course.
Jaelynn says she chose these three projects because they are “Just super fun!” But she has also been taught a lot through 4-H. “It’s taught me how to public speak,” she adds. “I’ve done a demonstration every year, and enjoy talking with the public at fairs and shows. With my market projects I go to businesses and ask for support so have really gained interview skills! I have learned how to present myself better and I think it’s made me way more confident as a showman and a public speaker.”
When asked, she said her goats are definitely her favorite project. “They’re super fun and have personalities of their own,” she explains.
If you have kids that are interested in 4-H, be sure to stop and talk to the kids at the upcoming Skagit County Fair. The kids love to talk about their projects and what they have learned in 4-H. The parents are also an excellent wealth of information. “4-H is so important!” shares Kristen. “It truly develops our young people to be great leaders in whatever they choose to do. The leadership skills they develop including public speaking, team work, responsibility, accountability, and record keeping are such life skills. Especially in an animal project, that animal depends on that 4-Her for care, food and water. Being in charge of an animal and it’s care is a huge responsibility and an emotional journey.”
See you at the Fair!