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Indiana County Fair's Kiddie Farm gives youngsters hands-on ag intro

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 6:12 p.m.
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
Arlene Weaver demonstrating the 'Build A Farm' exhibit Kiddie Farm area. The Build A Farm was made by Arlene's husband Dennis Weaver.
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
Indiana County Fair manager Ed Nehrig, right, and his grandson Tyler Nehrig move signs to prepare the fairgrounds. Tyler was recognized regionally as a junior fair volunteer.
Earl and Eddie are yearling Brown Swiss steers that owner Heather Howard will bring for her oxen demonstration at the 2014 Indiana County Fair
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
Arlene Weaver starting to prepare Kiddie Farm area. Here she is with Kiddie Farm mascots Chris (right) and Christy.
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
Indiana County Fair manager Ed Nehrig, left, and his grandson Tyler Nehrig assemble pig pens. Tyler was recognized regionally as a junior fair volunteer.
Youngsters settle in for a storytime session at the Indiana County Fair Kiddie Farm.

Many volunteers, exhibitors and vendors will come together to put on the Indiana County Fair Aug. 23-30 at Indiana's Mack Park. They plan and prepare throughout the year to bring fair visitors the week-long showcase of agriculture and entertainment.

Arlene Weaver of Marion Center, Tyler Nehrig of Homer City and Heather Howard of Acme, Westmoreland County, are just three of the many people who are working to make this year's 152nd edition of the fair a memorable one.

Weaver, 58, finds new ways to educate children about farm life through fun and engaging displays, games and other activities in the fair's Kiwanis Kiddie Farm.

It's a free, hands-on educational center that last year attracted about 3,200 children under the age of 12, Weaver said.

This year, youngsters who explore the Kiddie Farm will find a new attraction and will have the chance to create their own farm replica as part of a new Build-A-Farm activity.

“They can put the farm together. They have to build the silo, a house with a roof and a barn,” explained Weaver, who is superintendent of the Kiddie Farm.

The children also may use soil and small replica equipment to pretend they're real farmers.

“They can go to the apple orchard to get an apple, dig potatoes, get eggs from the hen house, go to the Farmers Market and separate their items into bins,” Weaver said. “They get one Kiddie Farm dollar and go to the General Store. The store has things that are farm-like that they can buy. It makes a complete cycle of farming.”

This year's Kiddie Farm also will include a kids' variety show titled “Rock and Roll Pet Store” that will be featured Aug. 25-30.

As in past years, Weaver said, there will be corn and oat bins were children can get some more hands-on learning about farm crops.

“I want them to have fun learning,” Weaver said of the Kiddie Farm's young visitors. That's why she shifted emphasis away from crafts.

“We used to have a lot of crafts for the children,” she noted. “I took a lot of the crafts out. They have activities they can take home, and most of them do. They seem to really like the interaction with the games and seeing the farm displays more than doing crafts.”

Weaver began helping with the displays in the Kiddie Farm in 2001, and she took over running the exhibit in 2004.

She discovered that many children and parents coming through the exhibit didn't know where many foods raised or grown on farms originate.

“I believe over the years people have forgotten where things come from,” Weaver said. “I will ask a child where did an egg come from, and they will say a grocery store name. Their parents don't always know, either.”

Weaver said the kiddie exhibit was changed about four years ago, with more details added to show how a complete farm functions. While there are no live animals included, visitors will see a replica of a working farm that includes a feed mill, tractor, barn and pond.

“It's an educational center,” Weaver said. “We have good volunteers that get the kids to interact with the fun centers.”

“Fun center” games include tossing bean bags to represent feeding pigs and matching stuffed beanie farm animals with their “mothers.”

Weaver was invited to the State Fair Convention to present a program on the Indiana County Fair's Kiddie Farm.

“I was asked to give a seminar on how to set it up,” Weaver said. “It was seen as a good way to get kids involved at fairs. I said that you have to have good volunteers to get the kids to interact. The Kiddie Farm has changed over the years. We've done different things every year, and I think about making changes and what I can do different.”

“Because of safety, we cannot have live animals for the children to interact with,” she explained.

Weaver said several state -level agriculture leaders praised the Kiddie Farm as one to model.

“That did make me feel good, but everyone says it's hard to get volunteers to do the work,” Weaver said. “It is a lot of work. Every year I think it's my last year doing it, and then there are children who smile at me and tell me how much they enjoyed it. That makes me want to keep doing it.”

Nehrig, 22, serves as a fair volunteer and as superintendent of the annual outhouse race, which is set for 3 p.m. Aug. 24. He organizes that event and the recruitment of teams to compete.

He also assists with electrical work throughout the year at the fairgrounds. In preparation for the week of the fair, he installs hundreds of light bulbs among the exhibition buildings.

“It's a lot of work, 365 days a year,” said Nehrig, who also works full-time on his family's dairy farm raising cattle, hay, corn, soybean and rye. “We do a lot all year, not just the week of the fair. I do get called if a light bulb goes out. They find me.”

Nehrig was recognized for his volunteer efforts last October. He was named Junior Fair Person of the Year for Pennsylvania's northwest region. He also competed for the state champion Junior Zone Person of the Year, and he was recognized at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in January in Harrisburg.

“It was an honor to win,” said Nehrig, a Penn State graduate with an associate's degree in agriculture business management. “There are a lot of fairs in Zone One, which Indiana is in. To be picked out of all of the fairs in Zone One felt good.

“I competed for the state, and it's based on what you do at the fair. I like the fair and all the work. I like the people who come out to see the agriculture and everything at the fair.”

Oxen demo new fair feature

Heather Howard, 32, plans to bring two teams of oxen for demonstrations of wagon-pulling and log-skidding beginning at the midpoint of the fair's run.

Earl and Eddie are yearling Brown Swiss steers that weigh about 1,100 pounds. Jake and JJ, at age 3 12, are 1,500-pound members of the Milking Shorthorn breed.

A third team of one-year-old twin Jersey Ayrshires will be brought by a friend, Howard said.

“Howard said those attending her demonstration will learn about the history of oxen and “will see commands used, a small obstacle course, log skidding and a secret finale.”

Howard and her family have 50 draft horses on their farm, and they do all the logging on the farm with the oxen.

“They are not very fast,” Howard said of the oxen. “They are good for plowing and logging. We enjoy taking them to parades.”

She broke the oxen when they were one month old, working about 30 minutes with them daily.

“You put a yoke on them, and they get used to it,” she said. “They were driving with halters in two weeks. They are pretty smart. People don't know that about oxen.”

Howard said she'd like to start the process over again with a new set of animals.

“I'm hoping to sell them and get young ones,” Howard said. “I like training them.”

The oxen demonstrations will be held at times to be announced on Aug. 27-30.

Debbie Black is a freelance writer.

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