Doug Crouse is busy helming the 4-H building at the fair, organizing displays, juding and more. Before he got completely bogged down in fair madness, Crouse took a few minutes to talk about the importance of 4-H, what fair visitors will see, and what it offers to students.

Work by Delaware’s 4-H students will be a huge part of the Delaware State Fair, which begins Thursday, July 22, and the man behind much of it is Doug Crouse, Kent County 4-H educator and superintendent of the 4-H building at the fair. The longtime 4-Her talks about what he took away from being a member, what it takes to prepare for the fair, and how the organization has changed.

Q How long have you been involved in 4-H?
A I’ve been around 4-H for about 35 years, first as a member and then a volunteer leader for 18 years. Then I took a position as 4-H County Educator about 10 years ago. So now I get paid to do for what I used to volunteer to do.

Q What is 4-H, and what do people think it is?
A There used to be a stereotype that you had to raise an animal or cook but it’s not like that now. Now there’s a whole gamut of project areas.
Many people would tell you, “I can’t be in 4-H because I don’t live on a farm.” You don’t have to. Only 3% of Delaware 4-H members come from farms. It shows that any child is interested can get involved. We have programs in rural areas, towns, urban programs, a lot of after school programs. There is something in 4-H for everyone.
4-H is a youth development organization, so we have volunteers across the state and nation and internationally. Volunteers step up and decide they want to work with youth, and I work with those volunteers to help them with resources and training, and to teach these kids life skills, that’s our primary focus — to teach them things they can learn today and use the rest of their life.
It provides kids the opportunity to experience a lot of leadership opportunities.

Q What programs have grown since you’ve been in your current job?
A We have a large interest in shooting sports, especially in the archery. It’s one that kids can be trained to do very easily and one they enjoy, and they can feel a sense of accomplishment by hitting that bull’s-eye, or getting close to it. That’s one that over the five or six years has grown in this area.
There’s also a huge interest in science, that’s one of our national mandates.
The third one is citizenship. Our members amaze me in what they will volunteer for and what they will do for people.

Q What’s the most hectic part of the fair for you?
A Trying to figure out what we’re going to do with all the exhibits. We thought we had a record breaker two years ago with 7,000 exhibits, then the next year we had 8,600 entries. I was scooting around that building trying to figure out where to put these things. That’s my challenge again this year, what will come in. You never know what’s going to come until they get there. We’ll meet the challenge, and it’s great to see that interest.
[As of July 16] we’ve already been to the buildings, cleaned, etc., but beginning Monday [July 19] we begin moving exhibits in, Tuesday is judging for eight hours with volunteer judges, with 100 volunteers coming in to help with the process, then Wednesday we’re giving everyone a breather to start arranging those exhibits. Then we turn around on Thursday, July 22, and accept all our food and plants, then judge. We open that building at 5 p.m. [opening day of the fair]. Monday through Thursday, we get through those days, everything else is downhill. Those are the working days, you gotta get it done, gotta get it judged, tagged and entered into the system.

Q What programs did you do in 4-H?
A Photography was my biggest project area, but I came up in a club that did a variety of things, so we basically had a hodgepodge of things from woodworking projects to growing vegetables. When I have the time I’m always snapping photographs. I never wanted to be a photographer, but I love taking pictures, and all those techniques and skills I learned in 4-H.
The biggest thing I did in 4-H was public speaking. To this day, I’m never nervous when speaking in front of a crowd. I used to do banking for 20 years, and never, never had any fears of speaking, and I give all that credit back to 4-H.

Q What sets Kent County 4-H apart from others?
A We have the largest program throughout the state. Maybe it’s because we’re in the middle of the state, but Kent County 4-H has always been a strong program. We get strong participation at the fair because it’s in our county.
We have some great longstanding volunteers and some supporters and agencies, we have a great Delaware 4-H program.