The county fair is every 4-H’ers time to shine, whether they’re showing livestock or displaying their creative pieces.

At the Rice County Fair, 14-year-old Marisa Winget and 17-year-old Megan Shirek agree that speaking in front of judges and simply being involved in 4-H has helped them develop more confidence.

4-H clubs have been around for over 100 years, engaging youths in activities that help them acquire leadership skills and exhibit their talents in a variety of ways. Nearly 6 million participants are involved in 4-H nationwide. The four “H’s” in 4-H stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health.

Before she joined the Wheatland Wheaties 4-H Club, Winget thought of herself as shy. But experiences with showing livestock and going to 4-H camp helped her learn to open up to others, speak her mind and stop worrying about what others think.

“I have to say throughout these six years of 4-H I’ve definitely grown as a leader and public speaker,” said Winget.

For the past six years that Winget’s been in 4-H, she’s not only showed multiple animals, but also submitted projects in several fine arts categories.

The past two years, Winget earned trips to the Minnesota State Fair with her sheep project and a performing arts project in which she played ukulele. Every year, including this one, she’s shown sheep, rabbits, poultry and a dog.

“I like them all,” said Winget. “Everyone asks me if I have one special species I show, and I have to say I like each project I do equally.”

Winget researches each animal she shows at the fair, where she demonstrates their knowledge of showmanship. Judges base their scores on several criteria, like the owner’s appearance, knowledge of her animal, understanding of how to raise and care for the animal, and the animal’s cleanliness.

During the animal shows, Winget said judges examine the muscles and frame of sheep, the weight and color of rabbits and the size and weight of poultry. Quite often, Winget said the outcome depends on the judges’ preference.

This year, it was Winget’s goal to earn a State Fair trip with one of her livestock projects and/or one of her general projects.

In addition to animal showings, Winget also has also shared painting and drawing exhibits, completed a fashion review, and submitted projects to the sewing and quilting, baking, cake decorating, indoor gardening, child development and veterinary science categories at the fair.

“I have to say 4-H is a great way for children to learn and grow and make good relationships and friendships with people,” said Winget. “4-H is a great program for every age, not just little kids but kids my age, too.”

Megan Sirek, a member of the Webster Willing Workers 4-H Club for the past eight years, has earned Minnesota State Fair trips every year since she became eligible the summer after sixth grade. She shows cattle every year in the cow/calf competition, submits a variety of general projects, and also helps out as a 4-H Ambassador.

Like Winget, she credits 4-H for helping her come out of her shell.

“4-H has played a huge role in my self-growth,” said Sirek. “I started out as a shy kid who hid behind my parents, and now I’m a second-year Minnesota 4-H Day Ambassador.”

Being a 4-H Ambassador the first year involved preparing events for 4-H youth and doing press interviews while this second year in the program secured Sirek a leadership role on the ambassador team.

While Sirek is a regular in the beef cattle barn and has earned State Fair trips in the indoor gardening and photography categories, she also likes to try new projects. She’s done clowning for youth leadership, and this year she earned a champion award for an escape room she created in the self-determined category.

As she approaches her senior year at New Prague High School, Sirek is contemplating possible careers in either education and photography. Her involvement in 4-H has influenced her passion for both.

“Everything I’ve learned about photography, I’ve learned through 4-H,” said Sirek. “… I’ve learned so, so much just being a part of it.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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