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Belknap 4-H Fair has banner year

  • Lauren Tyler, 15, of Groveton smiles at her Tunis-Suffic Cross sheep named Dot during the Belknap County 4-H Fair in Belmont on Saturday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Lauren Tyler, 15, of Groveton shears her Tunis-Suffic Cross sheep named Dot during the Belknap County 4-H Fair in Belmont on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Lauren Tyler, 15, of Groveton shears her Tunis-Suffic Cross sheep named Dot during the Belknap County 4-H Fair in Belmont on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Ellie Philbrick, 16, of Candia uses a goad to guide her Dutch Belted bull calves during a 4-H working steer show on Saturday. Philbrick is the fourth of five siblings to participate in 4-H and has been showing working steer teams for five years. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Ellie Philbrick, 16, of Candia uses a goad to guide her Dutch Belted bull calves during a 4-H working steer show at the Belknap County 4-H Fair in Belmont on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Philbrick is the fourth of five siblings to participate in 4-H and has been showing working steer teams for five years. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Sebastian Henney, 8, hugs a young Holstein steer named Oliver at the Belknap County 4-H Fair. Henney would later show Oliver and a second Holstein during a 4-H working steer show with supervision from his older cousin. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Wally, a Boar X breed goat, sticks his head outside his pen during the Belknap County 4-H Fair in Belmont on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Rachel Fife, 14, of Northfield shows a Japanese Buff bantam chicken during the Belknap County 4-H Fair in Belmont on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Fife has been involved in 4-H since she was 5 and have been around chickens her whole life. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Saturday, August 12, 2017

For want of volunteers, the Belknap County 4-H Fair almost didn’t happen a few years ago. Now, it’s having a banner year.

“We’re getting into a resurgence,” Fran Wendelboe, the fair’s former president, said Saturday from the information booth for the 74th annual Belknap event.

“We’ve got a record number of animals this year,” she said.

Two years ago, only six pigs were shown, she said – this year 27 were registered. Likewise, 18 cows were brought in – in prior years, there have been as few as six.

With an aging population and a continuing out migration from the country into cities, the 4-H fair had seen a consistent slump in participation. For whatever reason, it’s seeing a bounce-back.

“I think there’s a lot of movement of people that are going back to nature,” Wendelboe speculated.

Some participants, like 16-year-old Ellie Philbrick of Candia, come from more traditional farming backgrounds. Philbrick, who tied for first place in the Eastern States Exposition in the Youth Working Steer Show last year, has been working with oxen for seven years. All her siblings do as well, and her family keeps a hobby farm that the steer help till and plow.

“We’re really still living off the land, I guess,” she said. “We’ve really been blessed.”

But there were also newcomers to country life, like Joe Spiegelman, 13, a Long Island transplant who now lives in Chester.

Spiegelman explains his introduction to agriculture simply: “At our town fair, I fell in love with a cow.”

He started with dairy cows, and through 4-H, eventually switched to working steer. He also learned how to keep honey bees, and now has two hives. Spiegelman wore a shirt on Saturday he’d designed himself. Atop a line drawing of oxen and bees read the words “The Stinging Steer Farm.”

His mother, Jeannette Spiegelman, said her son’s new hobbies were unexpected – but well worth it.

“It really makes them responsible,” she said.

Lauren Tyler, 15, of Groveton has been showing sheep at fairs for six years now. She raises mostly Tunis sheep, a red-faced, cream-colored, fat-tailed breed typically bred for its meat. Tyler doesn’t sell her animals to be slaughtered though – the breed is endangered, and Tyler said she wants to help restore it.

Her mother, Darlene Tyler, said her daughter saved up her allowance to buy her first pair of sheep. The family didn’t farm, so Lauren’s father, Jim Tyler, dutifully built a barn.

“It was a simple A-frame. Because it was just supposed to be the two of them,” Darlene Tyler said. Those two became four, then six. Now it’s 19.

But Darlene Tyler said she doesn’t mind the sprawling hobby. The family has learned a lot, and it’s helped Lauren develop perseverance and discipline.

“This taught her life skills,” she said. “If it’s 40 below, they still need water.”

The fair continues today with a working steer show, pie eating contest, draft horse and pony obstacle course, and more. It runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.