TOWNSEND -- Since the mid 1850s and even before, agricultural fairs have marked an important time of year for farmers; the end of summer.
Farmers went to regional fairgrounds and compared their best livestock, produce and other agricultural products. The winners went home with cash prizes. Competitions in fine art and writing also made the prize list.
On Aug. 24 through Aug. 26, Townsend 4-H members plan to enter a plethora of similar contests at the Middlesex 4-H Fair in Westford.
The 4-H organization began as a youth development program about 100 years ago, Townsend coordinator John King said. The Westford fair is for all the 4-H clubs across Middlesex County.
The kids learn skills they can use their entire lives like public-speaking, leadership and volunteerism, he said.
The lofty goals are important, but his five children getting ready for the fair had one overwhelming reason for taking part: "It's so much fun," they each said, one after the other.
Dan, entering grade six, concentrated on poultry. He will show Stockie, a white broad-breasted turkey, and Colonel Sanders, a broiler chicken, at the fair.
Emma, entering her sophomore year, also stayed with an agricultural theme. She studied the history of different breeds of sheep and the properties of their fleece.
Rachel, entering grade seven, will demonstrate spinning, using a wheel purchased by the Friends of the Townsend Public Library. She created a Teddy Bear Picnic
The 4-H categories have changed over the years to reflect a less rural society, John King said. Anything that can be done as a school project can be done as a 4-H project.
"Beekeeper" Ben, entering his junior year, made an electronic game board. He will also help with the honey display.
Rebecca, heading off for her first year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has won 4-H awards for creative writing and will display more of her work.
She is using leadership skills learned in the club to help her younger brother, Daniel, with his creative writing.
This year will be one of her last fairs before she ages out. Rebecca is not ready to let 4-H go, though. She is hoping to assume the leadership of the Townsend club from her father when she has finished school.
Their cousin, Katie King, entering her freshman year, has the most difficult-to-transport project of the King family.
George and Charlie are her twin Holstein steers. Her father once trained a team so she decided to follow in his footsteps and learn to be a teamster.
Katie trained the young animals to wear a yoke and pull heavy weights. The team will be judged on its pulling abilities and appearance.
A good day of washing and trimming will put the animals at their best, Katie said. Because they are nearly identical, the team will get more points than a less well matched pair.
Showing is just part of the fair for all the Kings. In some way each will help at the fair, with serving food or setting up or manning displays.
Even John and his wife, Kim, will be laboring at the youth fair. They are in charge of the maple syrup and honey display.
For fair information, go to www.4hmiddlesexfair.org.