The 4-H exhibition is an inseparable part of the tradition of county fairs, and this is no exception at the Champaign County Fair.
The fair kicked off on the morning of Friday, July 22, at the fairgrounds at 1302 N. Coler Ave. in Urbana, starting with a horse show from the 4-H youth development program.
Molly Kipfer, the Extension program coordinator with Champaign County’s 4-H program, said the county fair is important for children in 4-H because it lets them show off the skills they’ve learned and the hard work they’ve put into their projects during the year.
“The county fair is like the end result, in a sense,” Kipfer said. “Not everybody competes, but the ones that do, I feel, really learn a lot about their project area and take their criticisms that they got from the judge and turn it into something better next year.”
Kipfer was in 4-H as a child, preceded by her mother and grandmother. She describes 4-H as a generational program, but she hopes to expand beyond those familial ties.
“We love the generational aspect,” she said. “We definitely have generational 4-H’ers that have been in long lines of family 4-H’ers, but we want to get out and also show that it’s not some clique that only generational families can be in it. Anybody can be in it.”
More than 1,300 children submitted entries to compete in the 4-H exhibition at the Champaign County Fair this year, which Kipfer says is a lower number, compared to the years before the COVID-19 pandemic..
Bill Alagna, vice president of the Champaign County Fair’s board of directors, said the 4-H exhibition at the fair is a good liaison between the public and the agricultural world.
“There’s a lot of people in Champaign-Urbana that have – especially children – that have never seen a cow or a pig or a horse or sheep up close,” Alagna said.
Alagana said the fair offers visitors a good view of the different livestock featured in the 4-H exhibition, which lets them see what it’s like for others who own livestock and harvest crops.
“The uniqueness to the fair background is all the wonderful fair food and carnival rides and then exposure to all the animals,” he said.
Along with the 4-H exhibition, the county fair also featured a concert on Friday evening, July 22, featuring country artists Cole Swindell, Michael Ray and Ashley Cooke. Other grandstand events during the fair’s nine-day run include the Cincinnati Circus, demolition derby, monster trucks, motorcycle races and dirt track racing, along with the carnival.
Alagna said the fair’s future relies on the children who attend each year. He said the directors plan events catered to their interests, like the 4-H program and carnival.
“I’m a firm believer that organizations will die of old age if they don’t gear entertainment towards children,” he said. “They’ll keep asking mom and dad to bring them back to the fair, and that’s where our future’s at.”
He said the directors hope to pass the Champaign County Fair’s legacy down to their children and grandchildren.
“We’ve kept it going,” Alagna said, “so the generation that’s on the board of directors now wants to keep it going to hand it off to our kids and grandkids and try to let the legacy keep building up.”