As this year’s crop of fourth-graders learned about sheep, cows and making rope, a few of the hundreds of volunteers who have made the Fourth Grade Farm Fair possible for a quarter-century gathered to reminisce.
While Jay Meyer rounded them up in his golf cart and brought them back to a pair of brown benches under a deep blue sky, his wife, Colleen, smiled as she listened to the memories of those who had been touched from what’s become a harbinger of spring in the Bitterroot Valley.
“All of us in this valley have some awesome connections,” said Amy Reed, a fourth-grade school teacher from Lone Rock. “Some of those were made right here over the years.”
Reed was one of the first fourth-graders who benefited from Jay Meyer’s vision more than 25 years ago that young people needed to be reminded of their connection to the land.
Back then, he was a fourth-grade teacher in Stevensville.
Reed was a member of Meyer's class when the fair began as an idea taught in the classroom. Over the years, it blossomed as it made its journey from the Meyer farm to the fairgrounds.
For the last 15 years, Reed has integrated the farm fair into her curriculum for her own class of fourth-grade students. From lessons on Johnny Appleseed to songs from the Peterson Farm Brothers – “I’m a farmer and I grow it” – Reed prepares her students all year long for this one big day when they’ll actually get to learn what it’s like to raise your own food.
Gail Smith from Missoula journeyed to Hamilton with her daughter, Melissa Hensen of Frenchtown, to have a burger and a chance to remember the many years they spent teaching youngsters about the joys of raising rabbits and chickens.
Back then, it was a family affair and Smith’s husband enjoyed telling tall tales about milking the chickens for Easter eggs.
“He was quite the storyteller,” Smith remembered, with a smile.
Along the way, Hensen said, the farm fair opened the eyes of many young people on the origin of their food.
“Even in Montana, there are a lot of kids who don’t know anything about agriculture,” Hensen said. “There are too many kids who think their milk comes from the grocery store.”
Christa Lecure is another one of Meyer’s first fourth-graders who was impressed enough back then to keep volunteering whenever she could help keep the farm fair going.
“I do have to say that I know for a lot of kids, this is their best day of the year,” Lecure said. “I know that I learn so much every time I’ve been here. … It’s good for kids to learn things they use everyday are derived from agriculture.”
A perfect example happened Friday when a fourth-grader happened to notice the box of macaroni and cheese at the exhibit on wheat.
“He said he didn’t know that there was wheat in macaroni and cheese,” Lecure said. “He said, ‘That’s my favorite thing to eat.’”
Colleen Meyer said a lot of eyes have been opened to the possibilities of agriculture, 4-H and FFA through the farm fair.
“They are just at the perfect age to be introduced to all of this,” Meyer said. “I think that’s been the most rewarding part for me is to see how many of these young people come back and teach as members of 4-H or FFA.”
Dave and Jessica Kostecki of Florence were doing their part Friday teaching groups of fourth-graders about the lambs their daughters raise for 4-H.
The couple lead the Bitterroot Shooting Stars, the largest 4-H club in the county, currently with more than 60 members.
“It’s just amazing,” said Jessica Kostecki. “The only way that it’s possible is through the large number of volunteers who offer to help every year. That’s what makes all of this possible.”