Ag Expo & Fair Market Sale is all about the 4-H'ers

July 16, 2012
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Next week, you will read in the paper about the annual 4-H/FFA Market Sale that takes place during Washington County Ag Expo & Fair. 

Many folks will look at the prices paid for these animals and question if they are worth the price.

So, are these animals overpriced? 

The short answer is “no.”

The buyers would also agree. 

Most cynics would say the buyers agree because of the publicity they receive, but that is only part of the story. 

The buyers know what many in the 4-H/FFA world know; it is not about the animal, it is about developing youth.
But the question remains, is the animal worth more than market price?

Actually it is worth many times more. 

The value we are not seeing is what these young people have learned from doing the project and what thousands of other youths have learned from similar projects.

4-H/FFA is, despite its stereotype, about youth development. It is about training young people to grow and mature into competent, caring adults.

Does 4-H care if a youth grows up and raises pigs for a living? Yes and no.

Yes, because many of the life skills the individual learned came from their project. 

No, because those same life skills will serve them well regardless of their chosen profession.

The 4 Hs stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health.

Certainly the head knowledge in a given project area will apply later in life if one chooses a similar career field. However, it is the other life skills that will serve them in all areas of life, such as decision-making, responsibility, record keeping, communication and caring.

As I write this column, many 4-H/FFA members in Washington County are putting the finishing touches on their projects. After the fair, they will finish the record-keeping portion of their project. Many look at that exercise much as they look at math or biology: Where in the world am I ever going to use this stuff? 

Unknown to them, they will be keeping records of some kind for the rest of their lives. Whether for their income tax or their business or their family budget, records will be part of their adult lives.

The other thing these records do is force them to evaluate their projects’ strengths and weaknesses. 

Sure, many just think they are assessing their project profit or loss, but what they are really doing is evaluating their business plan. 

Many will decide to stay in, get out or expand in a given project area based on what they learn from their records. 

Again, life skills they will use in adulthood, decision making and data analysis.

Please do me a favor, don’t tell these 4-H’ers this. Let them continue to think their projects are just about making crafts or showing cows or raising rabbits. 

We would not want to spoil their fun by telling them this is educational. They will then think it is boring.

So was the steer worth the money? 

Absolutely. Some of the proceeds helped others. It served to encourage beef project members to continue to strive toward their goals. And most importantly, it validated the youth development model which has been 4-H for nearly 100 years. 

So, if you get to the Ag Expo & Fair, make a point to attend the 4-H bake sale on Saturday at 4 p.m. or the Market Livestock Sale on Thursday, July 26, beginning at 6 p.m. Remember, you are investing in more than brownies and beef. You are investing in the future — our youth.

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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