CANFIELD, Ohio – Beth Smith knows firsthand the impact of 4-H.
The Beloit native has been a 4-H educator in the Mahoning County Ohio State University Extension office in Canfield since early 2017. But her experience with the organization began long before then.
“I grew up in Beloit and I was part of two different clubs for a while,” Smith says. Growing up on a dairy farm, she was part of what had been known as the Meadowbrook Dairy Maids as well as the Benton Happy Homemakers, a sewing and cooking project. Her father started in the 1950s with 4-H, she adds.
In 1917, about 15 years after the first 4-H club was founded in Clark County, Ohio, and two years after clubs began meeting in Mahoning County, the first area clubs began to exhibit at the Canfield Fair, Smith says. By then, there were 31 local 4-H clubs with about 825 members.
“It was actually done in combination with the Mahoning County superintendent,” she says. “A lot of clubs were done in the schools at that point.”
During the 1930s and 1940s, when there was less competition from sports and other extracurricular activities, the county program attracted upward of 2,000 students, Smith says. Current participation is around 1,000 students from across Mahoning County.
In 1954, the first Mahoning County 4-H king and queen were crowned at the Canfield Fair, a tradition that continues today.
Mahoning County clubs focus on topics ranging from livestock, horses and small animals to clothing and shooting sports.
The Canfield Fair lets 4-H participants present to the public the projects they’ve worked on throughout the year. The projects also are judged and students get feedback so they can make improvements for next time they exhibit, Smith says.
“There’s so many skills that our kids are learning through 4-H that they’re going to use throughout their lives,” Smith says. Working with animal projects helps them learn responsibility and observational skills, for example. Through public speaking events, they get to brush up on their communication skills. And during the fair, they get the chance to educate the public about what it takes to raise an animal.
“I enjoy talking to people who have never touched an animal before,” she says.
Pictured: In 1954, Gloria Cutsler Schumaker was crowned Mahoning’s first 4-H queen, Leland Knauf the king.