Most kids Levi Hartschuh’s age are spending their summers by the pool, on vacation, or, more likely at 7 a.m., sleeping.
But that’s when the 15-year-old’s day starts at the Ohio State Fair — a luxury in comparison with his typical wake-up call of 5 a.m. on his family’s farm in Crawford County.
Although the fair typically conjures images of fried food and Ferris wheels, one of the largest aspects of the fair focuses on its youngest participants. Hartschuh is among 17,000 youth exhibitors at the fair this year.
Levi was in a barn raising cattle long before, at age 9, he officially joined 4-H, a youth organization focused on leadership and practical skills. After his county fair in June, he and his family hitched up a trailer to tote his 2-year-old cows, Miracle and Millie, from north-central Ohio to Columbus for competitive showing, which includes being judged against a standard of the animal’s form and function.
“I have a passion for the beef industry,” he said. “There’s something about cow you can’t get with people. It can be a pain sometimes, but once they know you, they become your best friends.”
The fair’s top competitors will go on to the Sale of Champions on Sunday afternoon, where corporate buyers pay thousands of dollars for the winning livestock. Last year’s sales totaled $284,000. The top sale reeled in $50,000 for a grand-champion market beef steer, bought by Steven R. Rauch Inc., with $22,000 going to the young exhibitor.
The fair caps the money that an exhibitor receives from a buyer; the rest goes to the Youth Reserve Program that provides funds for scholarships, 4-H, Future Farmers of America and other programs.
The animals that don’t make the cut for the Sale of Champions return home with their exhibitors.
Kids from rural areas aren’t the only ones participating in the fair exhibitions. Despite the typical association of 4-H with livestock, it offers many other activities, such as photography and scrapbooking, that draw exhibitors from across the state.
“There are plenty of projects that don’t involve a lot of land. That’s a misconception,” said Kathrine Douglass, 15, a 4-H event youth assistant from Columbus’ West Side. “The whole point is to teach about leadership and responsibility.”
Kathrine participates in activities such as sewing and public speaking. Those competitions are judged on a presentation and interview.
Lillian Seibert, a 10-year-old from Auglaize County, took home the first-place prize in her category at her county fair for a scrapbook of her family’s vacation. Kids in non-livestock categories must win in their age group at their county fair to qualify for the state fair. In addition to scrapbooking, Lillian sews and shows steers.
Lillian comes from a long tradition of 4-H. Her father, uncles and great-grandfather all participated in the organization. Her grandmother, who taught her to sew, was a 4-H adviser for 30 years.
“It’s been great to see a new generation come up through 4-H,” said Patty Seibert, 61. “It gives you such a sense of accomplishment.”
For youths such as 13-year-old Allison Tuggle who want to own a farm someday, 4-H is a great hands-on experience. The judging, she said, is especially helpful because the judges give tips to improve showmanship, grooming and other animal-presentation skills.
“I like to play video games, and I’m just like a typical teenage girl,” the Lorain County resident said. “But I have my redneck side. It’s an awesome experience, and I love it.”
Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on July 30, 2018.