Hamilton County has the fourth-highest population in Indiana, at more than 320,000 people. It’s also home to Carmel and Fishers, known for affluent subdivisions and perhaps more roundabouts than anywhere else in the state. What it’s not known for, even to most Hoosiers, is farming. And if you were looking for a 4-H program with lots of crops exhibits, it likely would be one of the last places in Indiana you might look.
Yet in 2020, 4-H members exhibited just under 50 crops projects, ranging from three stalks of corn to three soybean plants to wheat samples to a partial bale of hay. Counties that traditionally see lots of participation in the crops project, like Franklin County, had about half that number this year.
George Kakasuleff, who farms near Cicero, has served as superintendent of Hamilton County’s 4-H crops project for seven years. “We were down on project numbers this year, too,” he says. “We were especially down on hay project numbers.” More than a dozen members exhibited hay, but he says in recent years, participation has been higher.
The number of 4-H exhibits was lower at many counties across the board this summer. Extension educators say several factors were at play, most tied to the pandemic. Some fairs were virtual, and some counties allowed members to complete a project by submitting a record sheet online. Local clubs couldn’t hold in-person meetings. Even in Hamilton County, where projects were physically brought in for judging, 4-H members couldn’t stay and talk to the judge — except for live livestock shows, with primarily family watching.
Hamilton County irony
According to the 2018-19 Indiana Ag Statistics report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Hamilton County still has over 115,000 acres of harvested farmland, ranking 60th out of 92 counties. Much of the land that is still farmed is productive, however. The county ranked 54th in total bushels of corn produced, 39th in soybeans and 44th in wheat. It ranked 71st in number of cattle on hand, 61st in hogs, 11th in sheep and 30th in chickens.
Insiders say Hamilton County is a tale of two counties. The southern half, roughly, is indeed urban, but the northern half is still suburban to very rural. Hamilton County is home to the largest family-owned seed company in the U.S. Beck’s, situated near Atlanta, annually ranks among the top five brands nationwide in terms of volume sales in both corn hybrids and soybean varieties.
“There was a period where our number of crop exhibitors and exhibits were down, but they’ve been coming back up until this year,” Kakasuleff says. “I was in 4-H here, and there are several other people my age who were also in 4-H.
“Now our kids are in the 4-H age group. Many of them are participating in crops projects like we did.”