By Lindsay Owens
Washington Times Herald
WASHINGTON — Summer is by far my favorite season. I’m just not cold tolerant at all. I love the sun, warm weather, and working in the field until there’s no light left to work by. Which brings me to one of the other things l love about summer so much: county 4-H fairs.
I was a member of the Haddon Blue Ribbon Hustler’s 4-H club in Carlisle for a decade. I took flowers each year and the last four or five, I took photography as well. The photography was the easy part. The flowers not so much.
The first few years of the flower project weren’t so bad. I planted my hanging baskets or pots early and in multiples to make sure something was blooming and perfect for judging day at the fair. In later years, I wasn’t so lucky.
Cut flowers had a love and hate relationship with me. I would have to decide several weeks in advance what I wanted my arrangement to consist of and then call around to various floral shops to find the best deal on whatever I thought I may need to complete the project. I always had to order extra and by the time it was all said and done, my project often ended up costing what a small batch of flowers for a wedding would. Cut a stem to short? Can’t use it. Flower not bloomed out the morning of judging? Better replace it now. It was always better to have more than enough than to run out and have a skimpy arrangement.
I’m sure I caused my poor mom a few gray hairs over these projects. Cut flowers are not something you can do several days in advance. In fact, I found it much easier and to wait until the wee hours of the night before the fair to construct my floral masterpiece. Each year, mom would stay with me at our farm market while I carefully worked cutting stems and arranging.
Often times it was morning before we made it home and mom would say, “Lindsay, you should have started on this earlier instead of (insert phrase here... going to swim practice, picking watermelons, staying at farmer’s market, etc.).”
But of course, I always prevailed with a division champion ribbon or better and a ticket to the Indiana State Fair meaning my mom would again have to watch me work into the early morning hours.
The best part of 4-H was the sense of accomplishment it gave me. I did it all on my own. I didn’t have someone telling me what my arrangements should look like or what I should photograph. It was all me and my ideas I was rewarded.
A couple of years ago, we had a family stop at our farm market in early July and buy several hanging baskets and patio pots. Three days later, a local fair opened and as I was browsing through the exhibit hall, I noticed several hanging baskets. To be exact, a Bolivian Jew, a purple Swedish Ivy, and a gorgeous patio pot. This family had taken things they had purchased from our greenhouse and used them as 4-H projects. I felt sad for the kids. The purpose of 4-H is not to buy your project. It’s to feel a sense of accomplishment for completing the project regardless of the color of ribbon you earn. Is it nice to have those big Grand Champion ribbons? Yes, of course it is. But what have the kids learn from this experience? That it’s OK to not work for something?
To me, 4-H was more about improving my skills each year and trying to always come up with something more creative than I had the previous year.
I did 4-H because I wanted to, not because my parents thought it would look good on a resume or college application.
My parents wanted me to do well, but there wasn’t pressure to be the best or to always have to be the winner. As long as I tried and was happy with what I had done, that was all that mattered in most cases.
My final year of 4-H, I was blessed to be the Sullivan Co. Fair queen. My mom didn’t want me to run for fair queen that year. I ran the previous three years just because I thought it was fun. I signed up without mom knowing. After much convincing by Robin, my mom’s friend, mom decided it was OK.
I was definitely in shock when I won. In fact, I just stood there for quite some time before finally I heard my mom and my “fashionista Mom” Jayne Bierhaus-Young scream. Unfortunately, when I was crowned, the combs attached to the crown didn’t get pushed down into my hair. The first steps that I took as the new Miss Sullivan County Fair resulted in my sparkly new head piece, dropping from my head and rolling across the stage. Luckily, I wasn’t easily embarrassed (probably because I was still in shock). By 10 p.m., my mom had changed her mind on the subject of fair queen, but not before the local paper had heard about her previous protest.
One of the judges told me it was my passion about 4-H and hard work that had stuck in her head. It was the sincerity I had when I spoke about my time in 4-H and what I hoped for the future. I didn’t want to be 4-H queen because of the crown. I wanted to be 4-H queen because I wanted to show other girls what a sense of accomplishment you feel when you work so hard on your projects. I wanted kids to experience what it was like to do something all on their own and be rewarded.
The point is this, 4-H has taught me that hard work pays off. When you spend time working on something and see the end result, it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s taught me responsibility. It’s taught me to be a good leader. I’m sure some of the kids participating in the local fairs this year will feel the same way.
Lindsay has been spending much of her time after work turning watermelon vines and picking produce.