Youth packed the Beltrami County Board's conference room Tuesday afternoon to stave off efforts to cut funding for Beltrami County 4-H.
"You've done a heckuva job here," Fairbanks said, "but my question is what have you done to tighten your belt?
He was told that 4-H is sending more e-mails to its members rather than mailing notices and newsletters, saving paper and costs.
"This what we're looking for," Fairbanks said.
"We're asking everybody, and we're going to go to every group and you folks should know that we're going to have this type of a thing in front of us from now for the next two to three years," said Board Chairman Jim Lucachick. "This budget thing is not a one-time situation."
Commissioner Jim Heltzer said the county faces a $2.1 million cut in state funding to the county. He said 4-H was one of the 100 county-funded items that commissioners were looking at to cut. But he also said that 85 percent of people responding to a constituent survey he put out don't want to see funding cut to 4-H.
"We all have to chip in, so expect help from us but we're going to expect something back, too," Lucachick said.
That 85 percent don't want 4-H funding cut "tells me that you're having some impact in the community at large and is appreciated by the community at large," Heltzer said. "I think what you're doing is working pretty well."
"Hopefully we have left you with a picture of the enormous impact 4-H has on us as individuals, our families, our communities, our country and our world," said 4-H'er Tricia Longfellow.
Students gave reports on various aspects of 4-H, from shooting sports to youth leadership to livestock raising to dog training. One student brought her dog, who laid patiently by her feet.
"When you support the Beltrami County 4-H program, participants in livestock programs learn about animal care and safe marketing practices, which lead to healthier animals, and improved public safety," said 4-H'er Tiffany Mason.
"This will benefit the community members by learning how to respect and treat animals, promote local agriculture and in providing safe and healthy products for consuming," she added.
But commissioners were also told that 4-H isn't just rural, that city kids are also members of 4-H, which in Beltrami County has 14 traditional 4-H clubs and 11 after-school programs.
"From time to time, people think that 4-H is only about country kids, that you've got to be daughters and sons of farmers to belong to 4-H," said Commissioner Joe Vene. "That's a misnomer, as you have city kids, town kids, involved in 4-H."
In addition to livestock exhibits at next week's Beltrami County Fair, there will be some 30 musical performances, a 4-H staffer said.
"We've looked at a lot of different opportunities to save money with our office budget and make better use of our time, and we really do a great job, and sometimes I worry that we're using our volunteers a little too heavy in some cases," said Ann Ward Thiel, Beltrami County 4-H Program coordinator.
Fairbanks noted that in most other youth activities, such as youth hockey, parents mostly pick up the tab.
"I assure you, as a parent of 4-H'ers, and as a volunteer who does all the repair work ... I've done my fair share if not more and have put money into the program," said Ann Illes, one of 66 active adult volunteers.
"It's a strong program that I really truly enjoy and appreciate, because I see just so many kids growing by leaps and bounds throughout the whole year," she said. "I see so much good throughout the whole program."
Mason provided a chart that shows how much a typical 4-H'er could invest in an animal, from $1,598.50 for a market steer to $101.80 to raise three baby rabbits. On a per pound basis, the cost is $1.92 for the steer but $16.97 for the rabbits.
This year's 4-H projects pre-registered for the county fair total 1,981 from 196 youth, up from 1,600 last year. Nearly 130 youth will be exhibiting educational exhibits, outside of livestock. It includes 78 in crafts and fine arts and 67 in photography.
"That's a high percentage of the entries that people will be watching at the fair," said Heltzer. "About a quarter of all the kids who are members of the 4-H are showing or participating in the county fair. That's also a good thing, as they learn a lot of things about self-reliance and self-assurance, being able to talk to people, talk to adults and actually organize themselves in a way that gets the job done."
The largest livestock areas in next week's fair are horses and poultry, with 36 projects each, swine with 35, beef with 32 and rabbits with 31.
The county has trimmed funding to 4-H in recent years when the University of Minnesota Extension Service pulled back funding for the program, leaving it up to county funding with support from Extension Service regional offices.