GRAINFIELD — The town of Grainfield might be small — around 250 people according to U.S. Census estimates — but when it comes to 4-H and the county fair, numbers are growing.
The two 4-H clubs in the county — Quinter and Smoky River — have almost 90 members between them, and participation has increased during the last five years, fair board members said while gathered at the Gove County Fair earlier this month.
“We’ve got the country kids and we’ve got the in-town kids. I don’t call them city kids,” board member Tracy Noel said with a laugh.
The growing participation prompted construction of a new livestock building and wash racks, and the board has a goal of installing air conditioning into the exhibits building.
In 1980, a local family donated the land for the fairgrounds and a building was constructed. The fair got up and running in Grainfield in 1983, said Noel, who has been on the board for 18 years. Prior to that, it was in Quinter.
Unlike a lot of county fairs, the Gove County Fair doesn’t have a carnival, but that only puts more emphasis on the 4-H experience for the youth, organizers said.
“We do focus a lot more on the 4-H programs, so I’m learning a lot about how 4-H teaches you things that school doesn’t,” first-year 4-H Program Director Kristy Packard said.
Packard grew up in Rush County, and while her father was on the fair board there, she said she never was in 4-H. But now, her two older children are involved.
“I like to watch all the kids get their projects judged and look at all the ideas they come up with, and all the hard work they put into it,” she said.
The fair’s sponsors and especially volunteers help make it a success, each year, board members said.
“We could not do it without them, and they are fantastic,” first-year board member Kelli Getz said.
“They continue to volunteer year after year. Their kids get out of 4-H and the parents still come back,” she said.
The community support was apparent at the July 18 style revue and food auction. Before a crowd that filled the stadium-style seats around the patio in front of the exhibits building — easily numbering 100 and at times more — the youngsters modeled their clothing entries.
Many of them immediately ran back inside the exhibit building to grab their food projects for an upcoming food auction segment or changed into another outfit for the next modeling session.
Parents, grandparents and area businesses people vied for the pies, cakes, cookies and gift baskets shown during the food auction segments, with many items going for more than $150. A few sold for more than $250.
Rebekah Kitch, Quinter, earned more than $500 for grand champion food basket with a farmers market theme and pecan cake, and had even more food items to sell after that.
She said the money will be helpful in buying textbooks in the fall at Wichita State University, where she will major in physical therapy.
For Kitch, 18, it was her last time to take part in the fair as a 4-H member, but she’s been a part of the fair her whole life.
“The year I was born was my oldest sister’s first year in 4-H, so I got passed around as baby,” she said.
Her “last hurrah” at the fair was a bit of a relief but also bittersweet knowing she won’t experience the fair the same again, she said.