If you are interested in volunteering with or donating to Deschutes County 4-H, contact Karissa Dishon at 541-548-6088 or karissa.dishon@oregonstate.edu.

While some attendees at the Deschutes County Fair and Rodeo were content with rides, music and food, Redmond agriculture students picked up valuable life lessons.

Among those was Maddie Lamken, a 17-year-old incoming senior at Redmond High. She took home several awards for the sheep she raised in competitions at the livestock area of the fairgrounds.

“I love fair,” said Maddie, who shows sheep in both 4-H and FFA competitions. “It’s fun talking with members of the community who don’t know about livestock. I’m very passionate about the sheep I raise and breed. Being able to tell others about my sheep is the best thing.”

Officials with 4-H hope that a recent donation from an Oregon farm store chain will help more kids learn about raising animals and other activities the agency sponsors. Coastal Farm announced before the fair that it is donating $127,000 over two years to pay for an educational program assistant, one of three full-time positions within the Deschutes County 4-H.

State funding for the position was about to expire, said Karissa Dishon, the 4-H program coordinator for the county. That would have left her as one of two employees to work with 300 volunteers and 2,200 students, 740 of them full club members and the others taking part in 4-H programs.

That could have meant cutting programs, Dishon said.

“Coastal has been a long-time supporter, truly an advocate for the 4-H program,” she said.

Dishon previously worked with Coastal when a donation from the company helped revive the 4-H program in Linn County, where Coastal is headquartered. She said 4-H had been eliminated in the county for several years.

More than half of Coastal’s 800 employees are former 4-H or FFA members, said Joe Clemens, spokesman for the Albany-based company.

“This is by design,” he said. “They are amazing employees with a passion for the farm and ranch lifestyle. It’s really important to us that 4-H programs continue to be at their best and available to anyone who wants to be a part of such an amazing organization. These kids are, and will continue to be, involved and making a difference in their communities.”

Dishon hopes the donation will give 4-H time to raise money for an endowment to more permanently pay for the educational program assistant position. She said that will help grow the program further.

“Even though we’re serving 2,200 youth already, there are a lot more we could be serving,” she said. “There are a lot more we could serve if we had the capacity.”

Companies like Coastal support 4-H because of the life skills it teacher potential future employees, Dishon said.

“People think of it as being here to take care of animals or learning how to paint a fence, but it’s the life skills you develop, creating capable, confident young people who can succeed in today’s world and have the character to face challenges,” she said.

While 4-H students showed off animals ranging from cows to pigs to snakes, Caroline Curley, 17, a homeschooled high school senior who is also attending Central Oregon Community College, said they all learn important lessons.

“It’s really important,” she said. “I really enjoy it. I’ve learned a lot of stuff, respecting and caring for my animals. My parents can’t do everything for me...I really like talking about my project and showing off all the work I put into it.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmondspokesman.com