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2016 Washington County Fair powers contemporary version of 4-H

From Pokémon to Ghana, youth present more than animal know-how.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - 4-H member Meredith McMahon, 14, gives an Ignite presentation on Pokémon at the Washington County Fair July 31. Thousands attended the Washington County Fair last weekend, taking in four days of rides, food and one of the fair’s staple attractions: projects by local 4-H clubs.

For more than a century, projects by members of the youth organization have been a staple at county fairs, but while plenty of 4-Hers were on hand to showcase livestock at this year’s Washington County Fair, the organization is placing a greater interest in other scientific studies — and it’s helping 4-H draw in new kids who might not otherwise have been exposed to the club before.

“4-H is not exclusively a horse or pig program,” 4-H Youth Development Agent Patrick Willis said Tuesday. “It’s a youth program designed to help kids grow and thrive.”

In Washington County, 4-H clubs find themselves torn between two very different realities: The county boasts three of Oregon’s most populated cities and is the heart of Oregon’s Silicon Forest, home to Intel, SolarWorld, Genentech and other high-tech companies. It is also home to its share of farmers and ranchers, who have traditionally made up Washington County’s economy and its 4-H membership.

The trick, Willis explained, is getting people from all walks of life to take an interest in 4-H and the county fair.

“In Banks, every other kid is involved in 4-H,” he said. “But in Beaverton and Tualatin, most kids don’t even know what it is.”

This requires outreach, Willis said, and an evolution in 4-H opportunities, which will translate to a greater diversity of kids and the types of projects they want to get involved in.

This year was the third year that 4-H members have taken part in “Ignite,” five-minute presentations on a topic of their choice.

Some presentations centered on sports — such as the proper way to set a volleyball — while others focused on Pokémon, the massively popular video game.

“(Ignite talks) are the latest and greatest for presentations and workshops,” said Willis. “But they’re fast. You really have to know your stuff.”

For more information on how to get involved with 4-H, visit the OSU Extension Service or contact Willis at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

More than an exercise in public speaking, the presentations require speakers to research their topic and become experts. First held in Seattle in 2006, Willis said Ignite is like a faster, miniature versions of TED Talks, the popular presentations which cover a variety of subjects.

“One kid gave a presentation on Ghana because, after having just learned about the country in school, felt it was worth sharing with more people,” Willis said. “It really is all about doing the right thing for kids.”

Ignite has become a requirement for 4-H scholarship recipients, and, oddly enough, more kids are actually volunteering to present.

Many people confuse the 4-H mission as being devoted strictly to agriculture or fostering farm animals, Willis said, but the group’s mission is about empowering youth.

“The presentations are one of the tools we use for positive youth development,” said Willis.

At this year's fair, along with the traditional animal shows, 4-H kids showed off projects ranging from robotics to art, and from woodworking to table setting.

“Basically, anything you can think of, you can do,” said Meredith McMahon, a sophomore at Southridge High School in Beaverton, who has been a member of 4-H for five years.

“The entire time I’ve been in 4-H it’s been a good mix of stuff,” said McMahon, who provided the Pokémon lecture. “I can see that what I put in, and the more people enjoy it, the more I get out of it.”

All told, McMahon submitted for 10 different presentations at the fair, including rabbit, goat and sheep shows, photography, drawn art and T-shirt printing.

“Writing, public speaking, drawing — I’ve definitely learned a lot being in 4-H,” she said.