Mercer Fair celebrates 100 years of Extension

AFP Correspondent

HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP — The Mercer County 4-H Fair at Howell Living History Farm in Hopewell Township celebrated the 100th anniversary of Cooperative Extension, even though Mercer and Sussex counties had an equivalent service two years earlier.
Chad Ripberger, Mercer County 4-H agent, said Extension-type work started in those two counties in 1912, two years before the Smith-Lever Act authorized land-grant colleges to extend their research into the farming community.
“We had this great network of land grant universities in the U.S., but great research wasn’t reaching the public,” Ripberger said.
Through Cooperative Extension, 4-H community-based clubs provide an opportunity for children and teens to do projects in their fields of interest, culminating in their participation in the fair. 4-H also provides school enrichment and after-school programs and day- and sleep-away camps, Ripberger said.
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes presented Ripberger with a county proclamation honoring Coopertive Extension.
“Our families, our resources and our traditions are important to us in Mercer County,” Hughes said.
He noted Mercer County works on preserving farmland, open space and historic buildings.
“Farmland preservation is very important in Mercer County, we are working hard to make sure farms stay in Central Jersey,” Hughes said.
Freeholder Pat Colavita called Howell Living History Farm “this jewel in Mercer County.”
He said last year his brother received a citation and had to pay a fine for allowing four chickens to walk on the road.
He suggested all the 4-H families bring their chickens to Lawrence Township to walk on the roads.
Ripberger introduced some of the people who make Extension possible in the largely urban/suburban county.
Meredith Melendez handles agriculture and resource management; Michelle Brill is in charge of family and consumer health sciences, and Doris Chin handles nutrition education for the limited resource audience in Trenton.
Other speakers were long-time 4-H members. Ripberger called them “high school grads who will benefit from 4-H forever.”
He noted 4-H is the largest youth empowerment organization with 7 million members nationwide.
Alex Byrne, a member of Clever Clovers since third grade said, “just because the older members of a club aren’t older members of society, it doesn’t mean we can’t help others solve problems.”
Scott Hoffman, a seven-year member said, “I learned to communicate and learned confidence from 4-H.”
Pete Watson, farm director, also spoke, thanking the freeholders and county administration for their support of the history farm.