By Thalen Zimmerman (Published during my internship at the Echo Press)
ALEXANDRIA, MN - With excitement and anticipation building up, the day finally arrived on May 5.
Reagan Lennes, a 12-year-old swine exhibitor and vice president of the Lake Mary Troopers 4-H Club of Alexandria, received a letter informing her that she was selected to receive the BELLE grant, Beginning Exhibitor Livestock Learning Experience, from the Minnesota State Fair Foundation for her work in 4-H and experience showing pigs at the Douglas County Fair.
"I kept asking every day, is it here yet? Is it here yet?," said Reagan, "When I finally received it, I was shocked but really excited."
Thanks to the grant, this will be Reagan's first year at the State Fair. However, she has experience in livestock exhibiting after four years of showing at the Douglas County Fair, where she has worked with swine, dogs and rabbits. This year, Reagan will be showing her two pigs, Peter and Petunia, who have a combined weight of over 300 pounds. Peter is a barrow, meaning he was castrated before puberty and will be processed for meat. Petunia is a gilt, a female pig under the age of 1 that has never given birth.
"I am very excited about the grant. It is my first year I can go to the State Fair, which takes a lot of pressure off from showing this year at the Douglas County Fair," said Reagan. "I am really looking forward to learning a lot from this experience and meeting new people."
Normally, to make it to the State Fair, one must advance in competition at a county fair before going to state, but the grant allows her to go to state no matter what. Reagan must meet with her appointed mentor weekly while producing progress reports on her pigs, per BELLE grant stipulations.
The BELLE grant is awarded to young Minnesota residents between the ages of 10 and 18 who have never participated in showing livestock at the Minnesota State Fair. The grant awards recipients $500 to help with show expenses, which Reagan plans on using to help purchase next year's swine, and she was also partnered up with an appointed mentor who will teach and prepare her for showing at state.
To receive the grant, Reagan had to fill out an application, send in a letter of recommendation from someone who can speak on her livestock show and animal care experience, and detail the work she has completed within her 4-H club.
Reagan has participated in many community services activities through 4-H, from filling bird feeders and decorating the outside of residents' homes at Knute Nelson during the early pandemic when no one could visit; to planting vegetable gardens at Nordic Meadows; filling birthday bags for the food shelf; and donating money to the Radiothon to End Child Abuse.
Reagan started showing livestock four years ago at the Douglas County Fair and credited her interest in swine exhibiting from her uncle and grandfather, who raised hogs within the area, and because her father is allergic to almost every other animal.
It's not just about animals. Through 4-H, Reagan has completed projects where she has showcased fashion reviews, presented some of her photography, and shown her baking and gardening skills. Outside of 4-H and livestock exhibiting, Reagan dances through the Just For Kix Dance Studio in Alexandria.
"I enjoy dancing. It is my biggest thing besides 4-H," said Reagan. "Last year I even had a solo."
"It is a common misconception that 4-H is all about animals," Lisa Lennes, Reagan's mother added. "There is way more to it; you do not need to own animals to join 4-H."
Reagan plans to continue showing animals until a year after graduation, which is the cut-off for livestock exhibitors to participate in showings and hopes to go to college to become an elementary school teacher. Reagan says 4-H has helped her develop many life skills like communicating, organizing and leadership to help her in her future endeavors.
"She is very good at planning activities and taking care of the younger kids," said Lennes, "She is a very good and natural leader."
Reagan plans on teaching the younger kids in 4-H what she will experience at the State Fair and offers words of advice for anyone who is looking to get involved in livestock exhibiting: "During my first show, I was nervous and scared. I didn't know how it would go, but after the first year, it gets easier, and now I get excited about doing shows. Just make sure you have the time and patience and don't be afraid to ask for help and reach out to people with similar interests."
Want to know more about pigs?
● A sow is a female pig that has given birth.
● A gilt is a female pig under the age of 1 that has not given birth.
● A barrow is a male that has been castrated before puberty.
● A stag is a male that has been castrated after has reached full maturity.
● A boar is an intact male that can be used for breeding.
● There are two class options for pigs, market and breeding.
● Market pigs are processed for meat and breeding pigs are used for reproduction.
● A barrow pig is just used for market and a gilt can either be used for breeding or market.