Young 4-H members showcase livestock at WV state fair
Tucked into a corner of the West Virginia State Fairgrounds this year is a racetrack for pigs.
Its banner calls it the "Pork Chop International Speedway," and its proprietors wax poetic about the "blazing speed" the pigs use to cover the small track as they race toward an Oreo cookie.
It's silly, but the crowds love it. The bleachers are full of children and adults cheering on the pigs, laughing at their names. (All are riffs on popular celebrities - see Jennifer Lopigs and Simon Sowell.)
This is just one section of the fair that caters to people who want to gawk at cute animals doing funny animal things - the Rooster Puppet Show is another example.
But just feet away, there's a barn full of fairgoers who wouldn't dream of attending these events - like 10-year-old Autumn Radford from Greenbrier County, who has raised two pigs since they were born in February but harbors no sentimentality on their account: She named them Sausage and Bacon.
Autumn is one of dozens of kids who come to the fair from 4-H activities across the state. They come to show off and eventually sell the livestock they've been raising for months. Most of them are more interested in a pig's weight and showmanship than its skill at racing around a small track.
"It's fun with pigs, I like just being around them," Autumn said. "But I'm not really sad about getting rid of them at the end . . . we're going to keep one to breed."
Kaylin Murray, 14, from Pocahontas County, said she does get attached to her animals - she refused to name her pigs for this year's fair to avoid growing too attached - but she's had to get over it.
She's been to the state fair 5 times now: Each year, she sells at least one of her animals, and she said she has to "cry about it every year" but then moves on and uses the money she earned to buy more livestock for next year, as is the custom among 4-H members.
"I bond really well with my pigs," she said. "So it's sad to get rid of them but it's what you have to do."
Murray said she spends two to three hours with her pigs every day - an eternity in teenage years, when most of her friends spend their free time on different kinds of activities. But she values her time at the state fair, and the county fair at home, enough to continue raising animals every year.
Dan Akers, who owns Mountain Home Farms in Pocahontas County, has been encouraging his 15-year-old daughter to do 4-H her entire childhood.
He doesn't expect her to raise animals or even live on a farm when she grows up, but said he hopes the lessons from 4-H will be valuable no matter what she goes on to do - a common refrain among parents with farms who see their children choosing different paths for their own lives.
"You've got to get them involved in something," Akers said. "It teaches her how to be responsible. She takes care of her animals all year, even when she doesn't want to, and that's important."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886.