Hours before fairgoers began arriving, 4-H parents Andy and Joey Bond were already at the Lick Creek Love Bugs building, prepping food for the coming night.

They were on vacation — sort of.

Each year, the Bonds are one of the families who take time off from work to volunteer at the Brown County 4-H Fair.

“It’s the farthest thing from a vacation,” Andy said. “But this is what we love.”

The 4-H program is a big part of their lives. They were in 4-H as children. As adults, they’ve served on the fair board and 4-H Council. Their children take on several animals or projects each year.

Though she can list a string of families like theirs, Andy says being part of 4-H doesn’t have to be a lifestyle or a calling.

In Brown County, 4-H is a very accepting place, she said. “I may be biased, but I think we are very helpful to people.”

And it’s not just for farm families, either.

“A lot of people still think 4-H, and they automatically just think livestock,” said 4-H Council member and parent Wendy Earnshaw.

“There’s over 200 different projects that you can do that have nothing to do with an animal.”

Alyssa Besser, a 4-H youth development educator, said some of the extension cords they use during the fair began as someone’s 4-H electricity project.

Woodworking, gardening, how to sew on a button or hem pants: “These are all everyday skills that used to be so common, and are not now,” Besser said.

Ups and downs

Across Indiana, 4-H enrollment has dropped by about 2,000 children in the past 15 years. Much of that is because of increased urbanization of rural areas, according to Indiana Public Media.

Earnshaw, who has two daughters in the program, noticed a past decline for Brown County 4-H, but she thinks involvement is currently on the rise.

She credits that in part to the enthusiasm of 4-H members who encourage friends to participate.

Photography and the Junior Leaders group are two areas where growth has been noticeable, Earnshaw said.

The Junior Leaders group has particular value in teaching leadership, teamwork and character building, Besser said. The group participates in activities such as service projects, fundraisers and camping trips.

Junior Leaders also serve as role models for the younger children in 4-H, Earnshaw said.

“When they have meetings, the older kids sit with the younger kids and say, ‘Do you want to do showmanship? Let me show you how,’” Earnshaw said.

Having older children working with them and not just adults helps keep younger children interested, Earnshaw said.

Everybody’s welcome in Brown County 4-H, Besser said. “We have a couple of new families this year, just from different counties, and that’s been really great.”

Room to grow

Last year, 4-H introduced Spark Clubs.

These new clubs are more of a workshop environment, said Brown County Purdue Extension Director Lisa Wilson. They can involve anything from hiking to arts and crafts, and must meet for at least six total hours throughout the year.

“It’s totally an open door, and trying to think out of the box of what your typical 4-H experience usually is,” she said.

If someone has skills they would like to share with 4-H members, they can also work with the Purdue Extension to host a one-time workshop, Wilson said.

“We’re really looking to kind of reach the audiences that don’t typically join us in 4-H — trying to reach out to those youth that maybe haven’t found their role in the community yet, and trying to give them a place,” she said.

Get involved

Want to get involved with 4-H? Contact or stop by the Purdue Extension office at the Brown County Fairgrounds for more information.

Hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Phone: 812-988-5495

Address: 802 Memorial Drive, Nashville

Online: extension.purdue.edu/Brown

Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.