Valley kids’ projects range from livestock to leather work, sewing
Pigs are rumored to be quite intelligent, but did you know that they can learn to play video games by moving a joystick with their snout? That’s one of the things that 11-year-old Paisley Esmiol learned when she raised a pig for the Okanogan County Fair.
Paisley and her sisters, Olivia, 9, and Alice, 13, each raised a pig to show at the fair for the first time.
Most kids start with chickens or rabbits, but the Esmiol sisters were ambitious, despite being new to the whole fair experience. “They didn’t just dive in with both feet, they dove in head-first,” said Hilary Kaltenbach, leader of the Methow Valley Cascaders 4-H Club.
Children learn so much from being in 4-H and raising animals for the fair, Kaltenbach said. Lessons go way beyond what might be expected — children learn not only about animals, but also about themselves.
“What I really hope people realize when they see kids at the fair is how much education and dedication goes into it,” Kaltenbach said.
The fair is kind of like a final exam, but young people spend nine months to a year problem-solving as they learn about their animals, about growing and preserving food, or sewing or woodworking, Kaltenbach said. Some kids experience the loss of an animal to illness.
Every child who is raising an animal has to keep a record book of progress and expenses, learn herdsmanship, create an educational poster, and be prepared to talk to visitors to the fair barn. They also do a presentation, which is really more about building the young person’s confidence in public speaking than about in-depth research, Kaltenbach said.
Participation in 4-H has been growing, with 42 Cascaders this year. With so many new to the club, the older, more experienced members have a chance to mentor the younger kids, Kaltenbach said.
There’s a large fur and feather group, including 18 rabbits. One youth is raising a steer. Longtime Cascader project leader Suellen White is running an active sewing club, where kids have made everything from clothes to quilts. Some kids are exhibiting individual projects like leather work, Kaltenbach said.
The 4-H Cascaders participate in community service throughout the year. People may have seen them helping with the Neighbors Helping Neighbors holiday food drive, cleaning up the Shafer Historical Museum before its spring opening, or serving lunch to veterans on Veterans Day.
Despite the expression “to eat like a pig,” it’s not always easy to get a pig to the minimum weight for the fair. One family has been feeding its pig spoiled milk, flat beer and protein powder to help it put on pounds, Kaltenbach said.
The Esmiols’ pigs were really cute when they first got them, at just 26 pounds. Now their biggest pig, a “super-friendly” porker named Batman, tips the scale at almost 300 pounds, Olivia said.
Raising an animal, especially something like a pig or a steer, is a huge responsibility, particularly now that the school year has started up again. Kids get up early to feed their animals and do other chores after school. They have regular training sessions to get the animals comfortable for fitting and showing.
“In the beginning, we were almost clueless,” Alice Esmiol said. Between tips from 4-H and videos, they became more comfortable with their pigs, she said.
In addition to animals, the fair features pickles, model trains, cut flowers, fiber arts, and more.
The 76th-annual fair is Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 7 to 10. Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Easton Corbin performs traditional and modern country music Thursday at 8 p.m. A schedule of events is at www.okanogancounty.org/government/county_fair.