There is more to the Florida State Fair, underway in Tampa through Feb. 19, than a great midway; it’s an opportunity to discover that Florida is more than beaches, citrus and theme parks. Bees, poultry, beef cattle, watermelons and strawberries? Yes, they’re Florida, too, and showcased at the fair. To learn more about the fair, and programs for healthier living, the Sentinel sought out Michael Gutter, associate dean and state program leader for 4-H youth development, families and communities with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension at the University of Florida.

Q: When people think of 4-H, they often think of farm life in the 1950s. What’s 4-H like today?

A: 4-H certainly has its roots in agriculture. More than 100 years ago, when 4-H and the land grant university system got started, our county was an agricultural society. The 4-H program introduced the latest agricultural science and technology to youth in farming communities. 4-H was about increasing the knowledge and self-sufficiency of future generations, and 4-H still has that mission.

But times have also changed, and so has 4-H. Today’s youth need to develop skills in a variety of areas, ultimately building what we call life skills — the ability to problem solve, make good decisions, be a good leader and help your community. In addition to the traditional agricultural focus, 4-H members now do everything from robotics and public speaking, to healthy living and entomology.

In addition to the traditional agricultural focus, 4-H members now do everything from robotics and public speaking, to healthy living and entomology.

Q: What do 4-H kids do at the fair?

A: Many of 4-H youth you’ll see at the fair are involved in animal-science projects.

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