In 4-H, a fair commute Family: The Hesters juggle school, work and showing animals while racing back and forth between Carroll County and the Maryland State Fair in Timonium.

September 03, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

This is the week in which a 4-H family has two homes: the regular one, and the one in Timonium, where the Maryland State Fair bounces some participants back and forth as if they were on a bungee cord.

Until last night's auction of animals raised by 4-H and Future Farmers of America youth, the Hester family of northern Carroll County commuted for at least an hour between home and fair, sometimes twice a day. Like most 4-H'ers, twins Emily and Jessica, 16, Paul, 13, and Abigail, 9, had creatures in both places relying on them.

They had to feed and water the 14 hogs they took to the State Fair, but they also had to care for three animals left at home, plus a pet dog and cat. The elder children took turns waking up at 5 a.m. to feed the animals at home.

By 7 a.m., they would be on the road to the fair, often not returning home until 9 p.m.

There was school, too: Four years ago, Carroll County schools began starting classes before Labor Day. Fair participants get excused on the days they show animals, but they have to make up the work.

For the parents, there is work that has nothing to do with swine: Beth and Gregory Hester have full-time jobs. She's a registered nurse who teaches high school at Carroll County Career and Technology Center. He's a manager for Avis and maintains rental cars at Baltimore-Washington International and Dulles airports.

Crock pot dinner

Dinner the past several days was most often around a crock pot in the tack pen -- each family of exhibitors gets a number of pens, and the Hesters set one aside for their equipment. For Paul's 13th birthday Sunday, his mother made and brought a "pizza cookie," a pizza-sized cookie topped with shredded coconut and other confections that look like pizza toppings.

After dinner, Emily pulled out her homework, a math textbook from her precalculus class.

"Write the standard form of the equation," she read aloud. "This is the stuff they're going through in class today that I have to figure out for myself here."

The family rode back and forth in a new Ford F-250 pickup with a full back seat, so all six could be belted in. Before the pickup, they had to take two vehicles to the fair -- a truck to pull the animal trailer and a car.

While the whole family's involvement in 4-H means a full week of little sleep and lots of driving, Beth Hester said it is similar to families whose children are immersed in sports and Scouts.

"It is very hectic, but we're only going to one place," she said. "We wanted something that all of us as a family could be involved in. Scouts is boys or girls, and 4-H is co-ed. Sports is very individual. We can't be in too many places at once."

'Closer family'

"It's made us a stronger, closer family," Jessica said of 4-H activities.

All four children have non-4-H friends and activities. The twins participate in track and field at Westminster High School in the spring, when they start their 4-H animals on a strict regimen of feeding and weight gain for the county and state fairs.

Emily and Jessica also share a class rank of about 18 of about 700, and have achieved perfect or near-perfect attendance (fair absences don't count against them) several years over their school careers.

The question of how they find time for all of this brings an animated response from Jessica, who said she has learned to value sleep.

L "We make time," said Jessica. "There are 24 hours in a day."

Jepa Hill Farm

When the twins were 9 years old and one year into 4-H, they persuaded their parents to let them buy pigs to raise and show at the county fair. Since then, they have been raising swine at their home, called Jepa Hill Farm. The "Jepa" stands for the first letters in each child's name.

The choice of pigs was made for several reasons: They are smaller and take up less space, time and feed than cattle, and are easier to groom than sheep.

"You just have to wash them and work with them with a crop," Jessica said.

During the rest of the year, the family raises lambs and rabbits. By the time the State Fair rolls around, they have sold the lambs and bunnies at the county fair or Westminster Livestock Auction.

Mercifully ignorant of the future, the Hampshire and Duroc hogs owned by the Hester family grunted proudly after winning numerous ribbons at the State Fair this week.

Little did they know that within a week's time, most of them would be hot dogs, roasts and ribs.

The state and county fairs are where the children get the best price for their animals because buyers want to support their efforts. Emily and Jessica can often get about $100 for a hog at the fairs, but only $75 to $81 at Westminster Livestock Auction. But when it costs an average of $100 to $150 for six months of feeding a pig to market weight (200 to 230 pounds), the children often don't make a profit and can lose money.

Cash prizes help

Any money they earn -- cash prizes help -- goes into college funds for each of the children. Emily wants to major in biology, and Jessica wants to be a teacher, like her mother and grandmother.

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