Maren Hoban says her involvement in 4-H has helped her develop a sense of responsibility and strong work ethic.
Caring for her cattle and pigs takes a lot of both those qualities.
Every morning and every night, Hoban spends time and energy on feeding and watering the animals, and also cleans their bedding. She bathes the animals on the weekends, and does some training to prepare them for showings, getting them used to the halter and whip.
The 16-year-old has been a member of the Franklin 4-H Club, out of Lake Park, for the past six years. This year, she’ll be bringing three pigs (a Berkshire breeding gilt, Hereford market gilt, and a Duroc-Berkshire cross) and four cows (Mini-Hereford breeding heifers) to the Becker County Fair.
“I’ve definitely learned about responsibility and hard work,” she says of her experience in 4-H. “It’s not something you can just try for a week and then decide you can’t do it anymore, because you have an animal that you can’t just get rid of.”
She’s also learned the importance of dedication, she says, as well as the value of friendly competition — “being able to keep the friends you’ve made, and learning how to win and lose gracefully.”
Hoban, a Detroit Lakes High School student and the daughter of Kurt and Jennifer Hoban, says 4-H provides her with fun opportunities to meet new people, such as when she’s gone to the Minnesota State Fair, and also opens the door to adventures she probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
“With showing the cattle, we go all over,” she says. “Not just to 4-H events, but also (other events) like Junior Nationals, which was in Oklahoma. So then we get to meet people from other states, too.”
She encourages kids from all walks of life to join their nearest 4-H Club.
“It’s not just agriculture,” she says, disputing the common misconception that 4-H is just for farm kids. Clubs in Becker County offer programs and activities geared to all sorts of interests, including robotics and other STEM programs, civic engagement, healthy living and much more.
“It’s a great opportunity,” says Hoban. “I think every kid could find something they wanted to do.”
Ultimately, Hoban is hoping the things she’s done and learned in 4-H will open a door to a career in animal science, or at least “a job opportunity of some sort in agriculture.”
She plans to continue to show animals for as long as she can, and “to just keep working on it.”
Erin Schauer says her life would be “so very, very different” without 4-H.
The 13-year-old Franklin 4-H Club member has been a part of the organization for six years, she says, and “my whole summer is basically revolved around 4-H.”
Schauer is the daughter of Travis and Gina Schauer. She says the whole family has been active in the Franklin 4-H Club “for as long as I can remember.”
In past years, she has shown poultry, sheep, swine and beef at the Becker County Fair. Those experiences helped her determine her favorite animal to work with — sheep — and this year she’ll be showing four of them at the fair.
“Sheep are my favorite,” Schauer says. “They’re super fun, they’re small and I can control them, and they’re really personable, more personable than you’d think ... One of my goals in life is to have a sheep farm. That’s how much I love them.”
Schauer has learned a lot about animal care through her involvement in 4-H. For sheep to show well, she says, they have to be freshly and evenly clipped, their wool should be free of hay, straw and other debris, and they should be healthy looking: “You have to make sure they’re exceptionally clean.”
At home, Schauer cares for her sheep by cleaning out their pens every day, regularly providing fresh water, ensuring that they’re not overeating (which she says can be a problem with sheep), and washing them once every week or two. The family raises 100-150 sheep.
While Schauer says she’s “more on the animal side” of 4-H, one of the things she likes best about the club is that it offers “a wide variety of things” to see, learn about, and do. While the fair is a favorite annual event for her, she also loves the community service work the club is involved in, and the various 4-H workshops and meetings she gets the chance to attend.
“Just hanging out with people, getting to know them (is a great thing about 4-H),” she says. “People are interesting to learn about.”
Outside of 4-H, the Lake Park-Audubon High School student is a member of the school’s basketball and track teams, and plans to be in cross country this year, too.
For Nathan Flaa, involvement in 4-H is a tradition that his mom, grandma, and great-grandma have all followed.
“My mom wanted me to go,” he says of how he got started in 4-H. “My Great-Grandma (Eileen) Olson used to go … so I decided I got to go.”
Flaa is 13 years old and has been active in the organization for the past three years. He participates in the archery portion of the 4-H Shooting Sports and Wildlife project.
During the Becker County Fair, he helps out at the 4-H ice cream booth and pantry. He likes that, he says, because he gets free ice cream.
Flaa also exhibits some of his woodwork, clay and photography pieces at the fair. His grandmother taught him the ropes of wood and clay work, and continues to help him with it. The two received a Grand Champion ribbon for one of their projects — a figurine of a Viking and snake — the year before Flaa joined 4-H. They worked together to make it.
“I made the snake,” he says. “It was a little lumpy, and its mouth was ready to fight the Viking. I added a toothpick to the Viking as a spear.”
Flaa’s mom, Katie Sandberg, explained that her son could have gone to the Minnesota State Fair with that piece if he had been in 4-H at the time. That added some motivation for him to join.
Once he did become a member, he submitted a project of a shield with a ship in the middle. He received Reserve Grand on that piece.
For this year’s Becker County Fair, he created a short wooden sword.
“(It) has decorations on it and doesn’t have a guard or hilt on it. I decorated it with markers,” he says.
Flaa is looking forward to getting feedback on it from the judges. He says he likes, “the excitement of what the judges are going to say about (my) project; if they’re going to be picky about it or are they going to love it.”
Most of Flaa’s creations reflect the Viking era because, “I like mythology and history,” he says. “I like history because it’s real and it’s nonfiction.”
Haylee and Addison Aho
Sisters Haylee Aho, 12, and Addison Aho, 10, are proud members of the Wolf Lake Woodchucks 4-H Club, and both are bringing beef cattle to show at the Becker County Fair this year.
Haylee is bringing Jak, a beef market steer, and — for the second year — Blackie, a beef heifer.
Addison is bringing Brownie, a beef market steer, Blaze, a Holstein market steer and Golly, a Holstein heifer leased from Tyrone Aho.
The two have been in 4-H for several years. Their mother, Amanda Aho, and her sister, Andrea Yliniemi, helped bring back the Wolf Lake 4-H chapter in 2016. Amanda and Andrea grew up in the Woodchucks, but after they had children of their own and started looking for a 4-H Club for their kids, they found the Woodchucks had been disbanded in 2005.
Getting beef cattle ready for the county fair takes a lot of work.
“You have to train them to be able to walk (in the show arena)” says Addison. “We walk them up to water or grain. We like to walk them around the yard.”
The animals get a little anxious while being walked, but “the more you walk them, the better they get about it,” says the girls’ mom, Amanda.
“You have to brush them,” says Haylee. “I think it’s fun, but it’s a lot of work, too.”
Kids from kindergarten through second grade who participate in 4-H are known as "Cloverbuds" and their activities are age appropriate, with competition judging focused more on participation than on critiquing their work.
Addison is participating in the Cloverbud events, while Haylee is competing with the older 4-H participants.
“I think 4-H is a wonderful program,” Amanda says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding to see them out working with their animals ... I like seeing kids out working with animals.”
The family usually tries to camp at the fairgrounds, she says. “You have to be there so early and so late, and we’re about 35 minutes away from Detroit Lakes — so we choose to camp at the fairgrounds.”
Tyler, Trent, Teigan, Todd and Tate Bjerke
4-H can run in the family.
The five Bjerke brothers — Tyler, 17, Trent, 15, Teigan, 12, Todd, 10 and Tate, 6 — are all members of the Franklin 4-H Club in rural Lake Park. It’s the same club that their dad, Matt Bjerke, grew up in, according to their mom, Skye.
The family has been involved in 4-H for the past 10 years, she says.
For the Becker County Fair this year, “we do beef and then we have pigs, as well,” she says.
Tyler is showing a heifer and a steer; Trent a heifer, a steer, and a market barrow (pig); Teigan is showing a steer, cow/calf, and prospect calf; Todd a market barrow; and Tate a cloverbud pig.
Their non-livestock projects range from food review to painting to knitting to purchased clothing.
They say not all show animals are created equal.
"Chaffee is a really good steer, he's so tame and easy,” says Teigan. “My cow, Sasha, is really good, too, because I showed her last year. Her calf, not so much. I have a big bruise where he jumped at me this morning. He's so stubborn."
Beef projects are best started the fall before the fair, if you are going to show a calf born on your farm, says Skye: “It's easier to halter break a 500-pound calf than a 1,000-pound animal, and the work done in the fall will really pay off the next summer.”
Feed intake is monitored throughout the year so the animals can be at optimal weight for the fair. About eight weeks before the fair, the almost daily work of tying, leading, brushing, washing, and show stick work should start.
“Some animals are more calm and easy going,” Skye says, “while some need time to adjust to everything from walking on gravel or concrete, to having kids run by or a radio playing.”
4-H teaches more than how to handle and show animals. It teaches responsibility and leadership. For example, the oldest Bjerke boy, Tyler, is now the treasurer for the Franklin Club. He went on the Washington Focus trip last summer and spent a week learning about government, leadership, and citizenship.
For Tyler, the State Fair is one of the best events of the year. When he first went with a beef project before eighth grade, there were only four beef kids there from Becker County. Since then, he said, the number of local kids bringing livestock to the State Fair has greatly increased, which makes it a really fun five days.
The beef project also gives 4-H’ers the chance to learn about the economics of beef farming.
“This year all the steers are calves from the boys' cows,” Skye says, “so it takes two years to see any profit. After the fair, they finish the records they keep during the year to learn if they profit, how unexpected items impact their bottom line, and see if there are ways to cut costs.”
For Teigan, "My favorite part of the county fair is the water fights on Saturday after the auction,” he says. “The fair is a lot of work, and by Saturday afternoon, it's just fun to go have fun."
Some things never change. Skye’s first fair was in 1988, she says, “and we were having Saturday water fights back then, too.”