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A fair tally: $1.4 million

A group of dozen people erupted into cheers on July 11 when a judge announced Kelsey McFall’s black swine, Oliver, had won the lightweight champion designation in the market hog category during the Jackson County Fair.

A seven-year 4-H veteran, McFall, 16, gleaming with pride, said this year's fair was the first time she won a buckle.

“I’m very excited and very proud,” McFall said, “Raising Oliver has taught me to work hard and to strive to do better.”

That hard work paid off not only for her, but for hundreds of local youths, whose livestock brought in more than $1.4 million in the annual 4-H auction.

McFall's mom, Brenda Rogers, was among a dozen family members and friends congratulating her daughter. Rogers said the fair and 4-H farming project is a family tradition.

“We do this every year,” Rogers said. “Her brother used to do it, too, but he’s too old now. Things that they learn from this, they’re invaluable. I’m a very proud mom.”

Funded by Oregon State University, Jackson County's 4-H programs are overseen by three staff members with 250 local adult volunteers offering lessons ranging from farming to culinary arts, photography and computer science year round for more than 750 kids.

The farming program, one of the most popular projects, has seen a growth spurt in recent years with more participants — and more auction money.

According to a summary of the 4-H sale, 442 livestock were auctioned off at this year’s fair, grossing $1.42 million — an increase from last year’s $1.28 million. In all, 171 lambs, 169 swine, 69 steers, 29 goats and four poultry were sold at auction.

“I’m very thankful for the overwhelming support from the community at the auction,” said Lena Hosking, assistant professor in service. “The fair is really a showcase of what the children have worked toward and learned in months ... It’s really an educational opportunity.”

Hosking, a 4-Her herself growing up in Wisconsin, said the program’s goal is to teach kids farming techniques and to give them life skills.

“We see kids at 4-H become more independent and more responsible throughout the projects,” Hosking said. “We take pride in providing them leadership skills … and of course, it also should be fun.”

Farming is the most intensive program offered through 4-H, Hosking said. Participants work daily for months to raise their livestock and meet weekly with other club members.

Hosking said research shows 4-H participants are four times more likely be involved in civic engagement and two times more likely to adopt healthy habits, such as paying bills on time and exercising.

With room for the program to grow, Hosking said she hopes to expand 4-H both in the number of participants and in the subjects available: Her goal is to reach more urban areas and serve more underrepresented local groups. She’s also working to expand programs in videography, computer science, painting, pottery and theater.

“We give the kids a safe and inclusive environment,” she said. “We are a nondiscrimination group — you just need to want to learn to join us.”

 — Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nguyenntrann.

This year's livestock auction at the Jackson County Fair raised more than $1.4 million for area youths. [Mail Tribune file photo]