Behind the barn; what you can find at Ionia Free Fair

The Ionia Free Fair is more than just funnel cakes and carnival rides, it's also a great opportunity to check out the farm life in the barns.

Located at the west side of the fairgrounds, the barns are full of pigs, cows, horses, sheep, goats and many other farm animals to interact with.

Alyssa, a long-time 4-H member, showed Leigh Ann around the barns and taught her what it means to be part of 4-H.

Many 4-H members are under the age of 18, and are completely responsible for their animals. Every day these kids make sure their animals are fed, watered, bathed, and provide anything else the animals need to be comfortable.

"All the kids down here are good at heart. They are hardworking and respectful kids, they're so committed to what they do," Alyssa said. "There are so many of them who want to do the best they can, they're responsible and everyone works together."

Alyssa said that families are more than welcome to walk through the barn and interact with the animals, providing them with an up-close experience city kids normally wouldn't have.

4-H is more than teaching responsibility and taking care of animals, it's also about building relationships. Many 4-H members try to sell their animals to potential buyers, so it's important to make as many connections as possible.

Once the animal is sold, Alyssa said it's a good idea to keep connections with those buyers so they'll be interested in your animals again next year.

"There's a business side of this in a really extreme way," Alyssa said. "You need to hand write letters, send them pictures, give them gifts and treat [the buyers] well."

Alyssa said that most of the money made goes toward their future college education.

The barns are open all day, every day during the Ionia Free Fair. 4-H encourages people who have questions to ask any member wandering around the barn.

The Ionia Free Fair runs now through July 22. For more information and a complete event schedule, visit ioniafreefair.com.

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