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State Fair offers 4-H'ers therapy
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Livestock exhibitors from south Mississippi will find an additional reward at this year's State Fair in Jackson: therapeutic relief.
The 146th Mississippi State Fair will offer more than the traditional rides, good foods and entertainment. It will offer a sense of normalcy that many of the state's counties have been lacking since Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29.
Mike Keene is the area livestock and forages agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. Based in Forrest County, Keene has been active in supporting farmers recovering from Katrina's extensive damage to property and fences.
“I'm sure our livestock exhibitor numbers will be lower from the southern counties, but many still plan to be at the fair,” Keene said. “It may depend on how much damage their farms suffered. Many families had barns that were heavily damaged. Some of the animals may not be as ready for competition as the exhibitors would have liked.”
Keene said youth have invested so much time and effort into their livestock projects that it is hard for them to pass up the opportunity to exhibit their animals.
“4-H livestock projects teach patience and the value of hard work. Before, during and after Katrina, these kids still had to be responsible for their animals,” Keene said. “The fair will be good therapy to take their minds off their problems. It also will be good for their parents, and it's going to be good for Extension agents who have been in the middle of the recovery as well.”
In the first days after Katrina, organizers debated holding the State Fair. They decided that the annual event, including the livestock shows, must go on.
Lamar County 4-H club member Dakota Dale, 15, has been showing livestock since he was 8 years old. Following in the footsteps of his older brother and their father, he said he loves the competition.
“As long as they are going to have the show, I'll be there. I enjoy showing market goats and registered brahman cattle. I like the people you meet and see at the shows, but mostly I like the competition,” Dale said. “Some people from my own county won't be able to go because of the storm damage.”
Dale, a 10th-grader at Purvis High School, said he is looking forward to getting out of his town, which has experienced a population explosion in Katrina's aftermath.
“I think it'll calm my nerves to see something normal and have fun,” Dale said.
His father, Ricky, said he is glad his son enjoys showing livestock.
“I remember how much it teaches responsibility and how fun it is to meet new people,” he said. “We'll still be repairing fences this time next year, so a little time away now will be good for everyone.”
Hancock County 4-H'er Tyler Fagan, 11, said he looks forward to showing his brangus heifers at the State Fair. He's been feeding them twice a day, washing them and practicing showmanship regularly. His family had to evacuate during the storm to a nearby relative's home.
“I was very worried about the animals. As soon as the storm was over, I wanted to check on them,” he said.
Fagan's trip to the State Fair will involve the entire family: his parents, grandparents, two siblings and some friends. Regardless of how busy he is at the time of the fair, Fagan's father said he “wouldn't miss it for the world.” His father, John Fagan, has been involved in contract work to clean up communities as well as working to repair damage on his own farm.
“The fair is a good way for the kids to get their lives back to normal. You can't buy back time. They went through the devastation, too,” he said.