BANGOR, Maine — For Miyah Hall, a 14-year-old 4-H member participating in the Bangor State Fair, the responsibility of caring for her animals isn’t a chore. It’s her joy.
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve loved animals,” Hall said. “I started riding horses when I was 3. It’s just, with all my anxiety and everything, it sort of just calms me down. They’re therapy.”
Hall and approximately 100 other 4-H members participate in contests, showings and games throughout the week at the Bangor State Fair, most with the animals they’ve raised.
When the 4-H members and their animals are not participating in contests, they display their animals for fascinated fairgoers to see.
Hall’s Serama chicken, named Tikii, sits on her shoulder, puffing out his chest and squawking loudly if he believes he isn’t getting enough attention. Serama chickens are show chickens and have been referred to as the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolly Parton of chickens. If Tikii gets tired showing off, Tikii lays on his back with his eyes closed, cradled in Hall’s arms as she strokes his feet.
Serama chickens are the world’s smallest breed of chickens — or, as the small girl says, “Miyah size.” Hall also showed her two guinea pigs, Sugar and Spice, and her turtle. Hall said Sugar is blind and Spice is her eyes.
Hall cares for her pets throughout the week feeding them and cleaning the cages.
“[The Bangor State Fair] is like a second home, like, when I pull in, I’m like, ‘hallelujah,’” Hall said. “There’s a big smile on my face.”
Hall has been a 4-H member for five years and enjoys showing fairgoers her animals, many of whom may not have pets.
“You’d be surprised how many people act like they haven’t seen a turtle,” Hall said.
Although this is the only state fair Hall participates in, she participates in community service with 4-H bringing her animals to retirement homes or to places where people have disabilities.
“There was one girl who fell in love with a rabbit, and she sat there and held him and it was really nice to see her smile,” Hall said.
After Hall finishes her day of taking care of her animals at the fair and competing in contests, such as the dog show, she goes home to take care of her other pets — more chickens, two cats, two salamanders and a betta fish.
A cooperative extension program in the United States, 4-H partners with state fairs across Maine as a way for the children involved in the program to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.
The name 4-H stands for head, heart, hands and health. The program is for children ages 5 to 18 with projects covering the varying interests from cooking, sewing, science, math and engineering, just to name a few.
Any project can be a 4-H project as long as it’s research based, with a hands-on project and a demonstration of the project. This follows the scientific method. The fair, the demonstration piece, is the final step of the scientific method: communicating results.
The hands-ons learning, or experiential learning, is how 4-H fulfills the model of “helping the people of Maine help themselves.” After the children complete a project, they generalize. They discuss how the solution they discovered can be applied to other areas of their life.
Barbara Baker, a 4-H Educator of the Penobscot and Piscataquis Counties, joined 4-H when she was a child. This is her 31st fair with 4-H.
“Kids don’t realize it, but that’s what their doing. It’s applied research,” Baker said. “They are putting on that thinking cap, and it will help them later on in life to solve those problems.”
In rural areas of America, 4-H has excelled, especially with animals, but they continue to adapt to the needs of citizens and expand to urban area.
“I knew how to add and subtract and stuff, but it wasn’t until I had to lay out a pattern on a piece of cloth and make it fit the best way so I was conserving things and saving money, that I realized what geometry was about,” Baker said.
There are 4-H fair activities happening all week with shows and contests every day. The fair kicked off with the horse show and continued with dog, cow, sheep and lamb shows. The market steer and lambs are sold after the contests at the end of the week.
Hall, along with about 15 other 4-H children, participated in the dog show. The dogs showed their showmanship, obedience and agility in three respective contests. Then the dogs and participants dressed up in a costume show.
Judges assessed how the dog listened to the child’s commands. Baker said another side of the costume show — other than the fun of dressing a dog up in a costume — is how comfortable the dog or any other animal in a costume show is in a costume. If the animal can be in a costume that may be distracting and is still following the child’s commands, then the child did an excellent job training the animal.
“One of the things about dogs that I really like is, it’s hard for families to have a horse or a cow, you know, just everyday families that live in the city, and so dogs are just, most kids have access to a dog and that’s something they can do,” Cindy Smith, the coordinator of the dog show at the Bangor State Fair, said.
After the show, the children are quizzed on their knowledge of non-sporting breed dogs. Non-sporting dogs include breeds such as poodles, bulldogs, boston terrier and dalmatian. Each year, the breed theme changes.
4-H uses a combination of the Danish system and American System for judging. In Danish system, all participants get an award and aren’t judge against each other, but individually based on the work they did. They either are graded excellent, good or worthy. The American system judges first to last.
For prizes, children receive ribbons and varying amounts of money depending of the difficulty of the contest. For example, the award for raising a cow is more money than painting a poster.
On Saturday, August 5, 4-H’ers can participate in the American Dairy Goat Association show. The A.D.G.A. show is registered and “big deal in the goat world,” Baker said.
“When kids take on an animal project, they do that start to finish and they’re responsible for that animal,” Baker said. “They’re responsible for making sure it gets the shots it needs, for the feed and the care, as well as this showing.”