Next summer, the Harford County Farm Fair will most likely go on as usual. Pigs and cattle will continue to be displayed by fresh-faced young 4-H-ers. Visitors will still admire the lambs, rabbits and guinea pigs in the traditional stalls and cages.
But one thing will be missing: Melissa Grimmel.
The Jarrettsville teen has been a presence at the Farm Fair from the day she was first allowed to show market animals, at 8 years old. Since then, she has been a grand champion every year, getting the so-called "triple crown" in 2010 for being a grand champion in three animal categories.
The following year, she became grand champion at the Maryland State Fair for her steer, possibly becoming the first Harford resident to do so.
This week's Farm Fair will be the last for the girl who has become one of the most prominent 4-H-ers in Harford County. The fair runs through Sunday, with the livestock auction at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The fair opened Thursday and will run through Sunday. It is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today (Friday) and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 5 to 11 and free for children 4 and younger. New this year, the Farm Fair will feature a carnival; prices do not include carnival rides.
Throughout the day today, 4-H members will be showing their animals. The Kidway will offer games, entertainment, and activities for children and adults and children alike can enjoy the Lucas Oil Truck and Tractor Pulls on both Friday and Saturday evenings.
Her last year
Grimmel just turned 19, making her too old to participate after this summer.
Growing up in a longtime farming family, Grimmel found it natural to spend most of her time caring for animals.
As time passed, parents of other 4-H-ers came up and thanked Grimmel for being a great role model, and she realized that was the greatest compliment she could get, Grimmel said Wednesday.
"I really never realized I was," she said about her status as a role model for younger kids. "I just always try to be the best person I can be and watch my actions."
Grimmel has moved on to the Midwest, where she will start her sophomore year seeking a double major in agricultural communications and animal science at Kansas State University.
She does not "really have, like, a dream job" but plans to go into writing or broadcasting.
"I really like the writing or photographing aspect," Grimmel said.
She will also keep breeding animals and competing in national competitions until she turns 21. She began those contests in 2005, in Milwaukee, Wisc.
"I will definitely continue to participate in that," she said.
A lot of Grimmel's success comes from her commitment – she spends the vast majority of her time focused on the animals and taking care of them. She said 4-H has been a major part of her life.
"It teaches you a lot about life. I have been told I have a tremendous work ethic and I think that comes from living on a farm and raising animals," she said. "It's just making better choices, a lot of responsibility."
Raising animals that will ultimately be sold and slaughtered also has its lessons, she said.
"It's nice knowing that I have given them probably the best life they could probably have," she said. "It's kind of bittersweet but I have learned that that kind of has to happen, to feed our country."
Passion in the family
Her father, Ed Grimmel, said he is glad to see his daughters – including three others, Michelle, Kristen and Lindsey – have all kept up a passion for agriculture once they've stopped competing.
"I really love that they are keeping on," he said. "4-H has enabled my daughters to have great relationships with 4-H people across the U.S."
"Melissa really wants to focus on the youngest children because a lot of them look up to her for winning," he added. "Her whole life is animals. She washes them two or three times a day, rinses them. Her free time is all these animals."
For now, Grimmel seems to be enjoying her last active year at the fair. She spoke with The Aegis from the fairgrounds, a day before she was set to take part in the pig show at 8 a.m.
And both she and her dad were quick to point out that a new Grimmel will be taking her place.
Eight-year-old Madelyn Grimmel, the youngest daughter, will be the newest member of the family showing animals in this year's fair.
"She wants to follow in her sister's footsteps," Ed Grimmel said.
Melissa Grimmel said Madelyn's entry means she gets to stay involved in the fair, even as an outsider.
"I will definitely help my little sister. It was great helping her and teaching her a lot," she said.