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4-H not just ‘cows and canning’

If you missed the North Stonington Fair a few weeks ago, you’ll get another chance to visit with local animal handlers and demonstrators this coming weekend. This time, however, the entire show is run by the county’s youth.

The New London County 4-H Exposition, held Friday, July 27, through Sunday, July 29, is an annual fair put on by members of New London County 4-H. Program coordinator Pam Gray said the kids in 4-H, who range from 7 to 19, get help from their adult mentors but ultimately do all the decision-making, fundraising and budgeting to put it on.

“That, to me, is what sets 4-H apart from other youth programs ... we’re firmly rooted in experiential learning,” she said. “The kids are doing it themselves; it isn’t just adults telling them what to do.”

Gray said that in addition to the 26 4-H clubs in the county, there are also school-based clubs, clubs at the submarine base in Groton, and 4-H programs at local libraries. She compared the club experience to scouting, noting that in addition to the animal husbandry 4-H is known for, many clubs do STEM-based activities and service projects that make kids better members of their communities.

Through 4-H, kids grow up understanding the importance of responsibility for their community, country, environment and world, Gray said.

Don Beebe, who leads the 85-member CT Teen Ambassadors club in Norwich, said a lot of his members get into college specifically because of their 4-H experience. Parents are often looking for leadership and service programs for their kids, and it benefits the kids as well.

Jim McCloud, who leads the LegoCity Robotics Military 4-H Club out of the sub base’s youth center in Groton, said 4-H also provides a community for kids who might not have one. He said the Department of Defense created the military program so children of servicemembers could have the 4-H experience at their youth centers on base; when their families transfer, they can pick up right where they left off at the next military club and have a core group of friends ready.

He said many of his kids go on to pursue programs related to their 4-H projects in high school, and some of his kids also come from 4-H families; one of his former students was a fifth-generation member.

McCloud’s club is currently in the recruiting stage, as his current group of kids is tranferring out of Groton, but he said their projects range from ideas he got from the public radio show “Science Friday” to the kids’ personal interests to topics specific to what their parents do on the submarines.

Jenn Rudtke, who runs the Classy Caprines and Cabritos Explorers 4-H clubs out of Uncasville, said she was inspired to start her club after talking with two young 4-H members at a local fair.

She said it’s important to preserve and support Connecticut’s agricultural roots, and 4-H provides a lot of different ways for kids to get involved.

She said her older group has about a half-dozen students, and she’s had to start a waiting list for her Explorers club, which includes 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, because there has been so much interest from families.

While the Explorers club doesn’t do the in-depth projects that the older kids do, they get to try out a variety of disciplines and life skills through regular “skillathons.” Some also sit in on the Classy Caprines meetings with their siblings or help out with their projects, such as their latest endeavor fixing up the goat barns at the North Stonington Fairgrounds.

And for youngsters who might not know where to start with 4-H, there are the outreach programs, such as the series at the Waterford Public Library.

Jen Smith, who joined as children’s librarian last year, said the library has been hosting New London County 4-H programs for several years, and they were such a hit last year that she wanted to continue offering them.

Programs range from cupcake geology and core sampling to a very popular stomp rocket physics program. Parents are often looking for something for their school-age children to do to avoid the “summer slide,” she said, and New London County 4-H often has the technology and other equipment needed for programs that the library otherwise couldn’t do.

“They’ve been a great partner with us,” she said.

The New London County 4-H Exposition will be held at the North Stonington Fairgrounds, 21 Wyassup Road, from 5-10 p.m. on Friday, July 27; 8:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, July 28; and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, July 29. Daily admission is $3 for adults, $2 for seniors, and free for 4-H members and children ages 12 and younger. Three-day passes are $7 for adults and $5 for seniors. For more information, contact publicity superintendent Lily Peters at


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