Life on a farm is kinda laid back,
Ain't much an old country boy like me can't back.
Early to rise, early to the sack,
Thank God, I'm a country boy.
Copyright Cherry Lane Music Co.
As John Denver's lyrics attest, there's nothing like a country boy. Or for that matter, good country living and all that goes with it - fresh milk from real live cows, vegetables straight from the garden, homemade clothes that don't split a seam after the second wearing.
Well, last weekend, city folk could get a taste of that good country living at the Fairfax 4-H Fair at Frying Pan Park in Hernton. Some 6,000 people spent the weekend devouring barbecued chicken and homemade baked goods, perusing the exhibits, which included a barn full of farm animals, and soaking in the fresh air and sunshine.
But the weekend really belonged to the 4-Hers, who organized and arranged the festivities with little help from the adults. Ranging in age from 9 to 19, the 4-Hers spent a good deal of their time in competition. There were prizes for the best vegetables, the best baked goods, the best homemade clothes, the best photographs, the best animals.
"This is really an educational thing for the kids," said Anne Wohlleben, a 4-H extension agent. "They run the show themselves, and they learn a lot. We're not just cows and cookin' anymore."
The event was expected to raise several thousand dollars, some of which will go toward the construction of the new Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center in Fort Royal. The building, which will cost about $6 million to construct, will serve as a conference center for community groups and a recreational facility for 4-H members.
But Wohlleben said fund raising was not the object of the fair. "This was not a money-making project. This was an educational project. The kids can really have a sense of pride and fullfilment having put this thing together."
Also participating in the weekend festivities was the Fairfax County Extension Homemaker Council, which opened an historical trading post featuring homemade baked goods, old-fashioned candy and country store trinkets.
The air at the fair was full of the sweet and not so sweet smells of the country. Back at the barn, one could find prize-winning pigs and sheep and goats and cows and roosters. There was even a pigeon or two to make the city folk feel comfortable.
Benjamin Leigh, an 8-year-old honorary 4-Her from Herndon, was there patiently brushing a prize-winning cow twice his size.
"You really have to know how to take care of cows," he said, gently patting the animal like he was an old hand at it. "You really have to been around big animals like I have."
In the nearby stables, 13-year-old Sydney Hansen from Vienna was enjoying a quiet moment with her horse Cinnamon, which had just won several ribbons.
"I've been riding since I was two," she said. "My sisters just put me on a horse and told me to ride, so I did. I've been in 4-H for four years now, and I've really enjoyed it. I've learned so much from it. We do so many different things. I just hope more kids will get involved in it like I have."
The annual fair, which has been held for more than 30 years, is just one of the many activities that have helped 4-H prosper in the metropolitan area, Wohlleben said. The organization now enjoys a membership in Fairfax County of some 7,000 younsters, and there was also growing chapters in the District of Columbia and Maryland, she said.
The parents couldn't help getting into the act just a little bit last weekend. Some of them manned exhibit tables, others just watched. Mary Breedg, whose 14-year-old daughter Mary Beth is a 4-Henat guarding the prize-winning vegetables.
"You're not going to find too many vegetables as nice as these, she said, glancing at the endless string beans and peppers and eggplants. "Everything's so green and fresh," she added. "This sure beats the city."