4-Hers after hoursby Nikki Tundel, Minnesota Public Radio
Each August, thousands of 4-Hers flood the fairgrounds to showcase their sheep and cattle and swine. But just what do all these farm kids do when they're not in the judging ring?
St. Paul, Minn. — Ten minutes ago, Maggie Jennissen and Molly Herberg were asleep on the hay. Literally.
The fourteen-year-olds finished showing their heifers at the Minnesota State Fair, and now they're relaxing on mounds of straw in the cattle barn. The remainder of their afternoon will be spent rolling their eyes at city dwellers, primarily the ones who teeter about the fairgrounds in high heels and insist on plugging their noses as they walk past the well groomed cows and calves.
"Some people are really weird," says Molly. "They'll ask you, just really odd questions."
"They ask, 'Is it a boy or a girl?' when it has an udder," adds Maggie.
Maggie's from Brooten, Minnesota. Molly's from St. Peter. They spend a surprising amount of time explaining that it's the females -- and only the females -- that have udders.
The two friends have been in 4-H since they were in kindergarten. This year, they both entered Holstein calves in the dairy competition. For those not in the know, Holsteins are the iconic, black and white bovines that produce the majority of America's milk.
Maggie competed with her winter yearling, Nikki. Molly showed Daffodil.
"She's not the nicest animal," admits Molly. "She's just really hyper. She kicks a lot sometimes. But she's nicer than my other one. My other one almost kicked the judge once, and that wasn't good."
This time around, Molly was able to keep her calf from head-butting others in the ring and was awarded a blue ribbon. Maggie picked up a blue as well.
So just how do these teenage girls celebrate such accomplishments? Dancing.
The first Saturday night of the fair is always set aside for the annual 4-H dance. It's a time for the young competitors to let off some steam. For Maggie and Molly, it's a chance to check out 4-Hers of the opposite sex.
"Everybody always goes for the beef boys," says Molly, meaning the boys who raise beef cattle.
"They're better looking, or they just clean up nicer, I don't know."
The one thing that's obvious about these beef boys is that they wear a lot of cologne. But perhaps that's just to make up for the fact that this dance is held in the swine barn.
The judging arena has been swept out to make room for girls in skin-tight tanks tops and boys in baggy John Deere T-shirts.
Just hours earlier, spectators sat in the stands admiring the muscling on the market hogs. Now chaperones in bib overalls watch as farm kids groove to Justin Timberlake and Green Day and AC/DC.
Disco lights hang from the rafters, but the pens are still packed with hogs.
A Yorkshire knocks over her water bowl when the DJ starts spinning Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back."
Pretty Ricky, the state's largest boar, appears to sleep through everything, although it's possible the 1,200-pounder is purposely keeping his eyes closed so he won't have to witness 14-year-olds dancing to songs like, "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy."
Aside from the curly-tailed spectators, this is actually a pretty typical teen dance. Nearly every song seems to spark at least one conga line. Girls alternate between flipping their hair and sending text messages on their cell phones. And the social cliques remain firmly intact. "Like, the dairy people and the horse people don't get along," explains Molly. "That's just the way it goes. You noticed that, right? Almost anyone you talk to, that's how it goes."
Despite the inherent rivalries, Maggie and Molly admit there is a common bond among the state's 4-Hers. They all know what it takes to keep a farm going. They know what it feels like to get thrown into a fence by a horse. And they know what it's like to see a newborn lamb take its very first steps. "It's kinda something you explain to your friends," says Maggie. "But then you don't really expect them to understand."
Adds Molly, "They get sick of you talking about it 'cause they don't really care, and they don't really get it. It just gets annoying when your friends are like, 'Oh, I had to take out the garbage.' And they're complaining, and it's like, 'Come on the farm for once.'"
"It does make you feel like you're more responsible, that you do a little more," says Maggie.
So how did the farm girls like the big dance?
"I don't know," says Molly. "It was kind of lame."
And those fabled beef boys?
"Creepy. They don't know how to dance. That's like the main problem. And they're really sweaty. It's gross."
As it turns out, raising a prize-winning steer just isn't enough to impress teenage girls these days.
- All Things Considered, 08/31/2007, 4:54 p.m.