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4-H clover County fairs are back in the green with 4-H

Boy holds his horse around her neck lovingly.
Danny Babolian takes a break with his horse, Royal, whose Cushings disease has made her an important 4-H animal science subject.

One of the earliest fairs of summer, the Norman County Fair had high attendance, support from local businesses and 92 4-H youth overjoyed to share their animals and projects in person. 

Danny Babolian, 11, just finished showing his cat, Pete, in the pet show at the Norman County Fair.

What other animals did he bring to the fair?

“Pigs, chickens and lots of bees,” says Danny. He showed them all with University of Minnesota Extension 4-H, except for the bees, which his family of commercial beekeepers brought for an educational display.

He doesn’t mention his horse, Royal, because it’s obvious. He is stroking her shaggy coat as he speaks. Cushings disease makes her coat uneven and her energy levels dip. She isn’t animal-show perfection, but she provides an animal science learning opportunity for Danny.

Cushings disease horse project
 Danny's project educates the public at the Norman County Fair.

Danny, of the Hegne Hustlers 4-H Club, likes having Royal with him at the fair. “I like that she is smart,” he says. “She is a very good girl.”

“Danny has had some problems with anxiety, and we worked with a therapist for his panic attacks,” says Becca Babolian, Danny’s mother. “For the longest time he rode a donkey because they hardly move. Roy [nickname for Royal] is happy to go slow for him.”

The Norman County Fair horse show offered a competition called the “egg and spoon.” Speed isn’t as important as keeping the egg from falling and breaking open on the ground while riding. Danny and Royal won first place.

Willow Abentroth, age 9, is another 4-H’er. She and her siblings are Marsh River 4-H Club members who show horses, sheep and swine, along with projects in food and nutrition, clothing, crafts and fine arts, photography, and flower gardening.

“I like the experience, and having everybody see my animals, and putting the hard work into them and seeing how the judges like them,” Willow says, adding that she gives her animals a lot of care and love.

Girl directs her berkshire pig in show ring
Willow Abentroth shows her Berkshire pig, "Nugget," in the swine show, just one of many ways she and her siblings participate.

It takes a county

4-H youth draw people to county fairs across Minnesota, but putting on a fair involves a great deal of work. Besides their efforts with animals and projects, 4-H’ers also run food stands — with the help of adult volunteers —  to raise money for their county 4-H federations and clubs.

Girl smiling while taking order at 4-H food stand
Elzetta Bitker loves to do her part to raise money and meet the public at the 4-H food stand.

Elzetta Bitker, 15, of the Marsh River 4-H Club, is one of those youth in Norman County. “I enjoy the fair and volunteering,” she says. “One of my favorite things to do is taking orders and I love scooping ice cream.”

“I'm so fortunate here with the volunteers and families,” says Linda Houglum, the 4-H youth development educator for Norman County. “If something needs to be done, they're right there to help. It provides experience for the youth, and the adult volunteers are crucial.”

Houglum also has a supporter in Don Merkens, president of the fair board in Norman County.

“We are able to talk,” says Houglum. “Communication is key. And Don is so energetic. The whole fair board works well with all of the 4-H’ers and families.”

Linda and Don talking with 4-H woodworking dresser project with purple ribbon in foreground
Linda Houglum,  Extension 4-H youth development educator, touches base with Don Merkens, Norman County Fair Board president, in the 4-H building among the many youth projects.

Merkens returns the compliment. “4-H brings a lot of goodwill and Linda is the one that keeps it all together,” he says. “She’s there for the kids, number one.”

The coronavirus pandemic meant there was no fair in 2020, so this year Merkens and Houglum are grateful for the high attendance, the support of local businesses to sponsor shows and exhibits, and especially to have young people gather together.

The Babolian family seems thrilled to be at the fair again too, among the 92 4-H’ers showing projects this year. And Elzetta is having a good time scooping that ice cream in the food stand.

“I like to communicate with everyone at the fair,” Elzetta says, and then she has to go. The pet show has ended and, everyone wants a tasty treat before the fashion revue starts. It is the county fair, after all.

fashion revue at fair shows multiple outfits including western style and a Star Wars costume
Fashion revue featured everyday fashions – and one Star Wars Mandalorian.

More photos from the Norman County Fair

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