As the Carroll County 4-H and FFA Fair quickly approaches, exhibitors are putting the final touches on their projects. That effort includes 16-year-old Ashlynn Kidwell working with her 4-H club to create a butterfly tent.
Held annually since 1897 and at the Carroll County Agriculture Center since 1954, the fair is set to open officially on July 31 and run through Aug. 6.
Over the years the fair has evolved into one of Carroll’s signature entertainment events, featuring live music and some motor sports, as well as pig racing and blacksmith demonstrations.
But the main purpose of the fair remains showcasing 4-H and FFA members’ projects, ranging from livestock, crafts and gardening to technology and fine arts.
Kidwell, a junior at Century High School, has been involved in a number of 4-H programs since she was eight years old and really “found an interest” in environmental science. Participating in GOES, or Green Outdoor Environmental Sciences, she has been working with other club members for several months to complete their new large butterfly tent at the Ag Center.
Alison Kidwell, Ashlynn’s mom, said this year her daughter participated in a virtual youth agro-science summit in March where she had the opportunity to submit a project proposal for the butterfly tent. Competing against about 20 youths from all over the country, Ashlynn was chosen to receive a $1,000 grant to help pay for project materials after presenting her proposal to a panel of judges.
Since the high school student had experience raising butterflies at the Ag Center previously, the idea to expand the already existing tent came naturally.
“She loves working with monarchs, the whole club does,” Alison said.
When the club realized the small butterfly tent at the Ag Center was not COVID-19 friendly because of lack of space, they idea decided to repurpose an underused high tunnel already on the premises.
The project involved preparing the tent as well as planting pollinator beds and a milkweed strip nearby.
Last week, 4-H youths came to a butterfly field day, where they received caterpillars to care for up until fair weekend. On the first day of the event, the butterflies will be released into the enclosed tent which guests will be invited to visit.
“4-H Club members are taught how to interact and educate the public on the importance of pollinators and how to handle butterflies,” Alison said. “They are learning so many new things and it’s great.”
Many people have come forward to help the effort, including master gardeners, she said.
Ashlynn pointed out although the grant she received was a lot of money, the group also received many community donations, helping them to create the best habitat they could.
Becky Ridgeway, a 4-H educator in the county, said she has been working with Ashlynn and her club leader, bringing forth the suggestion to repurpose the underutilized high tunnel.
“The program isn’t just for farm kids like many people think,” she said, as 4-H offers opportunities for kids interested in the environment, robotics, photography, baking and various other topics.
“It teaches the kids responsibility, decision-making and communication,” she said, adding as they get older, many have the opportunity to get involved on a national and international level.
Ashlynn said her favorite part of 4-H is being able to rise to those the levels and “meeting people with the same interests” as her.
“It has really helped me grow, get better at public speaking and demonstrations … and has put me a step ahead of other kids who didn’t do this program,” she said.
She said “without a doubt, the fair is her favorite time of year” and she’s excited to see the finished product of everyone’s hard work.
“I got to watch practically nothing turn into this grand project,” she said.
And Alison is proud of her daughter’s work.
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“She has done all kinds of wonderful things through 4-H,” Alison said. “You can see in her eyes that she is proud … Hopefully the tent is something that’ll be around for a long time.”