MAYBELL — The setting sun shines against Emma Balstad’s strawberry blonde hair as she and her dog, G.G., work on heel, stay, lay down and high five commands. After each successful task, Emma bends over and gives G.G. much-appreciated reinforcement.
The Emma and G.G. team will compete together in obedience and showmanship categories at the Moffat County Fair, which runs from Aug. 7 to 13 at the Moffat County Fairgrounds. While their training could easily keep Emma occupied over the summer, that’s just the start of her lineup in the Moffat County 4-H program.
Emma, who’s 12 and lives on her family’s 30-acre ranch in Maybell, is also busy raising and handling two pigs, two goats and several rabbits, plus she’s learning a new trade — cake decorating. Youths can begin participating in 4-H at age 8, so this is Emma’s fourth year in the program.
“It’s an interest for me. It’s something to do over the summer. … It’s one of my occupiers,” Emma said. “I think it’s just a good thing to do.”
Emma is active in her community club, the Hamilton Busy Beavers, is the treasurer during her second year serving on 4-H Council and is a member of three project-specific clubs.
Michelle Pilgrim, leader for the Rabbit Rustlers project club, said Emma is an exemplary member of the group, having not missed a meeting.
“I don’t think she does anything halfway,” Pilgrim said. “She just commits herself to her project and is really dedicated and committed to what she does and follows through.”
Pilgrim said Emma is breeding her own rabbits to gain experience. She thinks 4-H has helped Emma mature and “really come out of her shell.”
“I think 4-H has really helped her grow as a person,” Pilgrim said.
Emma said 4-H has helped her gain valuable “life skills,” including public speaking, developing relationships with others and responsibility.
Lisa Balstad, Emma’s mother, said she sees the same benefit of the program. Both Lisa and Emma’s father, Nate, participated in 4-H as youths in Minnesota. It’s a program they intend to enroll their other daughter, Rudi, 6, in as soon as she’s old enough. Rudi already participates in 4-H’s Cloverbud program and shows animals in the pee-wee division.
“It gives you a lot of interaction with other kids with similar interests,” Lisa said of 4-H. “I think (children) gain a lot of self-confidence and responsibility.”
With a range of projects for youths to choose from, Emma said 4-H is for just about everyone.
“You don’t always have to live out in the country to do 4-H,” Emma said. “Anyone can do it. There’s always something that someone can do (at the fair).”
Lisa said the variety offered is one of the reasons 4-H is unique. Emma can take projects ranging from cake decorating to livestock. Plus, as youths get older, there are scholarships and exchange trips available.
“I just think there’s such a wide range of diversity and opportunity for them,” Lisa said.
And the hard work 4-Hers put into the months of training and practicing pays off, in ribbons, plagues, trophies and, perhaps most importantly, satisfaction.
“It’s not always about the competition,” Emma said. “It’s about having fun.”
Still, last year, Emma brought home a pile of awards for her projects. She also qualified for the Colorado State Fair in dog showmanship. This year, Emma has decided to show rabbits at the state level and hopes to qualify with G.G. again.
More than anything, Emma said she’s looking forward to fair week.
“It’s one week of packed fun,” Emma said, “but tiredness.”
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