#AgLife lessons from the ‘barn’


Student and Polk County Youth Fair participant, Paige Gebhardt, shares her 4-H journey

THERE’S A SAYING that it takes a village to raise a child, but most people would agree that adding “a barn” to that piece of wisdom — both figuratively and literally — is a good idea. For those in agriculture, being “raised in a barn” is a good thing: kids learn life lessons and gain valuable skills while preparing to be the next generation in the agriculture industry. It’s a win-win.

Getting the next generation interested in agriculture is certainly the focus of competitions like the annual Polk County Youth Fair (PCYF), which was held in late January. However, the event offers so much more for participants like Paige Gebhardt, a Polk County 4-H Youth Council member and Youth Fair representative. She tried her hand at many different entries in this year’s youth fair, as well as in years past. She’s collected a slew of ribbons and a bounty’s worth of skills and character that will serve her well all throughout her life. Here are just a few of them.

LET CURIOSITY BE YOUR GUIDE

While she comes from an agriculture background — her family has cows — she has explored the different areas of competition the PCYF offers quite extensively. “I joined Boot Scootin’ 4-H Club,” Paige explains, “and my leader, Mrs. Lu (Luann Sparks), told us about everything that we would be doing in 4-H. She encouraged us to try different things, and we worked on projects at our meetings.” Paige obviously took Mrs. Lu’s words to heart.

This year, Paige entered a wide array of competitions. She refurbished a darling table, sewed a dress, baked cupcakes, tried her hand at raising orange trees, took on a recycling project, completed an Educational Display Board, and raised and showed a rabbit.

LEARNING IS FUN

Building life-long learners is the ultimate goal of any educational program, and Paige is certainly getting to it. Last year, her interests in learning earned her a coveted award. “Last year my educational display board received the tri-color award,” Paige elaborates. “My board was about the Burmese Python being an invasive species in the Florida Everglades. I enjoyed this project because I like to learn about things that are affecting our environment and how we can make a difference.”

MISTAKES ARE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

Paige took home many ribbons this year from the Polk County Youth Fair. “I placed well,” she shares. “My rabbit received 2nd and I received 1st on most of my projects.” That includes her sewing project, her refinished table, and her cupcakes. Her refinished table was even considered for the tricolor ribbon.

However, not all of her endeavors were home runs. “I attempted a citrus tree,” she recalls, “but they didn’t turn out so well, so I didn’t enter them in the show.” The showmanship of her rabbit didn’t go as well as she had hoped, either. “I didn’t do so well with the showmanship at the youth fair because I was nervous and didn’t tell the judge what I was doing as I did the showmanship routine.”

Yet, with a presence of mind far beyond her years, Paige follows up each disappointment with a silver lining, showing that the lessons she’s learned about not giving up are more valuable than any ribbon. For her poor orange trees, she adds, “Next year, I would change my soil and fertilizer.” For her routine with her bunny, she continues, “I still enjoyed working with my rabbit and being able to learn about him … I hope to learn from my mistakes this year and perform better next year.”

Time in the barn has taught Paige to simply learn from her mistakes. She summed it up perfectly with this observation: “It’s always good to be yourself, and sometimes it’s fun to try something different. If you don’t do well in something, that doesn’t mean to quit or give up.”

COMING TOGETHER IS IMPORTANT

Paige is also coming to see that some of the best learning can come from those around us. She has more than one family member to thank for her many ribbons. “My sewing projects received 1st and 2nd,” Paige states. “I made those over spring break with my Mema Cathy. She has been teaching me how to sew over the past few years.” Similarly, Paige’s cupcakes also have a family tie-in. “My cupcakes received a 1st place ribbon, and I had made those with my Aunt Marcia who lives in Georgia.” Learning from loved ones is a gift that only grows more precious with time.

TRUE WISDOM IS AGELESS

The purpose of the Polk County Youth Fair is first and foremost to get our young folks interested in agriculture and similar time-honored skills, but the participants are learning those life lessons that are as true today as they were fifty or even a hundred years ago. For Paige, the main benefit of the PCYF is simple. “It’s the learning,” she says. “I love to learn, and it’s learning things that will stick with you and that you can pass down to future generations.”

Paige hopes to be a marine biologist someday. “I want to study reefs because I think it’s neat how time can change something small into something big and because some products in certain medicine are found in the ocean,” she explains. It’s a profession where all of her youth fair lessons will surely prove invaluable. “I would like to be a scientist to find one of those products used in medicine to help people,” she adds. “It’s just fascinating to me what God has created.” If a child learns only one lesson in a barn, let it be such a one.

CREDITS

story by ERIKA ALDRICH
portrait by PEZZIMENTI