Ag Expo spotlights youth groups

July 25, 2011
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

When you read this article, we will be four days into this year’s Ag Expo & Fair.

Many of us are nostalgic about this annual event and remember the Great Hagerstown Fair of old. Fair time is as much a social event as it is a competition. It is a combination of a carnival, picnic and family reunion rolled into one.

For a lot of folks, the fair is generational; they showed, their parents showed, their grandparents showed and maybe even their great-grandparents showed. There are livestock shows, horse shows, tractor pulls, horse pulls and food. The smells of things being fried or grilled fill the air.

During this fair, as with most fairs, youth take center stage. Most of the shows, exhibits and competitions are youth-oriented. Which brings me to my point; the 4-H and FFA youth are the show. As an elderly colleague once told me, we are not raising better cows; we are raising better kids.

In addition, these youngsters know where food comes from. They understand that eggs are laid by chickens and do not magically appear in Styrofoam egg cartons in the cooler at the market. Many raise livestock and are extremely sensitive to the fact that they were cattle, lambs and hogs before they were steak, lamb chops or bacon. Milk doesn’t just come from the supermarket, either. It is produced by those beautiful grass-eating cud chewers we call cows.

These agricultural-oriented youths also know that beans and corn are the seeds of a plant, and broccoli and cauliflower are the flowers. We eat root crops that have to be dug out of the ground like potatoes, carrots and beets. They also probably know peanuts don’t grow on trees, but rather are underground.

Knowing where your food comes from and what it takes to get it to the table is very important. Even if you never sow a seed or milk a goat, you need to appreciate agriculture because you might someday be a decision-maker. When you start developing policy that will affect food production, you might take a second look.

Whenever I write on this topic, which I call ag literacy, I am reminded of what President Eisenhower once said: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.”

So I hope you will spend one of these sultry summer days at a dairy, beef, sheep, goat, pig or horse show. And while you are there, look at the food, vegetables, and arts and crafts exhibits. Your neighbors have been busy.

When you see all the ribbons, remember the true winner is society, because the youngsters who won those ribbons are part of two of the largest youth-development organizations in this country, 4-H and FFA. While they have different pledges, their tenets are essentially the same and are summed up well by the 4-H pledge: “I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to better service and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at

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