Every summer, like clockwork, county fairs remind us of the value 4-H and FFA clubs and chapters offer kids and adults who participate. Black Hawk County's version started Tuesday, marking its 102nd anniversary.

The staples are still there -- livestock, crops, sewing and gardening -- but 4-H and FFA started including much more a while ago. Fair-goers also can expect to see what kids learned about animal science; communications; family and consumer sciences; food and nutrition; design elements and art principles; personal development; and science, engineering and technology.

Diane Wolfe, youth coordinator for Iowa State University Extension in Black Hawk County, believes working toward and then participating at fair builds life skills that will endure. Kids must think projects through, whether composing a photo or assembling a model rocket. They then must approach a judge, talk about their work and explain what they learned and the decisions made.

"This is all good," Wolfe said.

Arnola Siggelkow, 82, a veteran judge in several Northeast Iowa counties, describes working with the youngsters as a joy for herself. But she also recognizes what planning projects, attempting the work, completing the paperwork and facing a critical review means to young people.

"They're always so proud of what they have done. They get to talking, and the satisfaction comes through that they did it, a satisfaction that they can do it," she said.

A section of the FFA creed illustrates an important ideal:

"I believe in less dependence on begging and more power in bargaining; in the life abundant and enough honest wealth to help make it so -- for others as well as myself; in less need for charity and more of it when needed; in being happy myself and playing square with those whose happiness depends upon me."

The 4-H pledge also defines the organization's core values:

"I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world."

FFA was founded in 1928, and in 2012 -- just in Iowa -- had 12,875 members. The seeds for 4-H were planted between 1890 and 1900 and specifically in Iowa in 1902. 4-H now claims 60 million alumni worldwide.

The figures that follow are from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, a research project conducted at Tufts University that examined the organization's impact . While the numbers are for 4-H, it's a safe bet FFA builds young people in a similar fashion.

According to the report, 4-H'ers in high school are about:

  • four times more likely to make contributions to their communities
  • twice as likely to be active in civic affairs
  • twice as likely to make healthier choices
  • twice as likely to participate in science, engineering and computer technology programs during out-of-school time

So to the 4-H and FFA members, adult leaders and volunteers, congratulations on keeping the fair tradition alive. 

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