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Animal projects keep some youngsters busy

The Ohio State Fair, which continues through Sunday, can be more than entertaining it can be educational especially for city children who don't know a lot about farm life. For farm children who come to town it can be a place to demonstrate what they've learned through programs like 4-H and the FFA. WOSU's Sam Hendren reports beyond the fun of the midway, there's competition and sometimes reward for hard work

Standing at the edge of the O'Neill Swine Building on the Ohio State Fairgrounds is a tall blue jeans-and tiara-clad young woman who's waving to a caravan of passing admirers.

Kelsey Wilcox, a high school senior-to-be this fall is representing the Hampshire Hog breed here at the state fair. She won the competition in part by demonstrating her knowledge of Hampshires - a hog that's mostly black with a white belt. She got her knowledge through hands-on experience

Pretty much it's always ran in my family and it's a family pastime tradition. My grandpa was really big into it and my dad kind of passed it along to us. So hogs and showing hogs is pretty important to my whole family, Wilcox said. Raising and showing livestock is also important to her neighbors in Auglaize County where she says it's 'the cool thing to do.' Each year when the fair comes to town the two worlds of agriculture and urban collide

Arlene Speck, the wife of a pork producer in northern Ohio, is one of several volunteers at the Pork Schop that's s-c-h-o-p a gift shop in the Swine Building that offers nothing but pig paraphernalia. The most popular item here, though, isn't for sale. In a pen filled with wood shavings, a several-hundred-pound sow obliviously nurses eight piglets. Speck takes the opportunity whenever she can to gently correct visitors' misconceptions

Especially they think she's nursing all the time when actually she nurses every 30 minutes or so and she lets down her milk about every two to three minutes and they don't realize that this mother pig doesn't nurse 24 hours a day, Speck said.

The fair is an educational experience for city dwellers who are now several generations removed from their agricultural roots. At the same time, it's a place where farm children can demonstrate their livestock skills. Throughout the fair's run, young people can be seen poking and prodding their pigs, cows, horses and other animals around the show ring - as judges select the best looking animals.

9-year-old Grayson Ehrman from near Steubenville displays two ribbons she's won at this year's fair above the pen for her hog "Zoe-ee" - a Yorkshire that outweighs her by several hundred pounds. Zoe-ee placed second in her class

They're all kind of different breeds of pigs and basically it's on how well he looks and he picks which one he likes the best, Grayson said.

Grayson and her 11 year old brother are both members of 4-H, the fabled children's organization that helps young people become adults through informal, hands-on education. Dustin Ehrman is their father

Me and my wife were both involved in the 4-H program and felt it was something we wanted to encourage our kids to do. We don't push 'em to do it, Ehrman said.

But they do believe that programs like 4-H offer advantages

You know we think that having animals and teaching kids at younger ages about responsibilities and its more than playing the game boy and sitting in front of the television and watching TV and it teaches kids about getting up and taking care of their animals - feeding, watering, washing their animals - and being rewarded for their hard work, Ehrman said.

One of those rewards just might be showing livestock at the Ohio State Fair which is what Kelsey Wilcox is doing when she's not passing out ribbons or helping young people with their animals. Wilcox does say she'll lay her tiara aside to pursue a goal off the farm. She wants a career in fashion merchandising.

Still to come at the Ohio State Fair: the breeding sheep show, Market beef skillathon, rabbit judging contest and a poultry showmanship competition.