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4-H forges into future with technology skills at Williamson County Fair

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A traditional county fair was born in 2005 by small group of individuals. Williamson County Fair has won various awards and recognitions through the years.
Shelley Mays / The Tennessean

The Williamson County Fair is an annual highlight of summer. We are taking a look at some of the people involved. This is the third in a series.

Williamson County fair-goers will see a new attraction this year – the 4-H and Youth Village, a 9,000-square-foot space dedicated to hands-on science, technology, engineering and math activities.

The space is a nod to 4-H's evolution as the youth organization adds STEM skills to its established agriculture program.   

Matt Horsman, county director of University of Tennessee's agriculture extension program, plays a key part in the evolution of the county's 4-H program. 

“We try to fit the skills to the clientele,” Horsman said.

More: Quilting contests a draw at the Williamson County Fair

“When we talked with the businesses, the parents of the community – these are the skills that a lot of people are looking for in the job market,” he said, about STEM skills. 

From farming to programming robots

In a small room at the Williamson County AG Expo Park, robots made of Legos maneuver across a table marked with painters tape.

At the edge of the table, several kids hold iPads, practicing for the county fair's first robotics competition. 

The kids program instructions on the iPads – turn 360 degrees, move forward one foot – to successfully complete the courses. 

Nelani Colleti, 15, tries to program her robot so it travels a few inches of black tape before lifting up a plastic ring. 

She points to a camera on her robot that can detect colors. Instead of programming the robot to travel a certain length, she programs it to move forward when it senses the color black. 
 
Unlike a lot of 4-H participants, she doesn't live on a farm nor is she involved in agriculture, she said. However, she has participated in 4-H programs on public speaking and robotics. 
 
“I like robots,” Colleti said, while tinkering on her iPad. 

Helping local farmers

For Horsman, incorporating technology into 4-H reflects what's already happening in the agriculture industry.

He points to drones as an example. Farmers can utilize drones to survey acres of land for soil deficiency in certain nutrients. 

More: 4 things to know about the Williamson County Fair

“[Horsman] has a strong commitment to the tradition of the 4-H, but he's willing to look at the changing dynamics of Williamson County,”  said parent Mark Osborne, whose children are involved in 4-H. “4-H needs to change with the dynamics, where they can stay relevant.”   

Outside of STEM expansion efforts, Horsman is involved with agriculture across the county.  

He helps families with small chicken coops in their backyards. He also assists residents learn best practices on raising cattle, horses and growing crops. 

Horsman's passion for agriculture come from his own experiences. He grew up on a 2,000-acre Illinois farm with soybeans and corn. He studied and worked in behavioral livestock research before his current job.

More: Franklin man knows what makes a good ham for the Williamson County Fair

Horsman's passion for agriculture shows in his leadership, said parent Sue Chandler, whose daughter is involved in 4-H's horse program.  

He knows all the parents and kids by name, Chandler said. He's also required students to complete service projects to earn a leadership position and boosted the organization's scholarship program. 
 
“He's gone out and knocked on doors and made contacts to get that money,” she said.  
 
Reach Melanie Balakit at [email protected] 

Williamson County Fair at a glance 

When: Aug. 4 – 10 

Where: Williamson County Agricultural EXPO Park, 4215 Long Lane, Franklin 

Hours: Monday – Friday, 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. (Midway closes at 11:00 p.m.; Midway closes Friday at midnight); Friday, 6:00 – 10:00 p.m., Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (Midway closes at 12:00 midnight) and Sunday, noon – 10:00 p.m. Midway closes at 11:00 p.m.) 

General admission tickets: Adults: $7, ages 6-12: $4, under age 6: Free 

All stage shows and attraction are free with admission. Midway ride tickets are sold separately.  Discounted ticket packages are available online. 

Information: www.williamsoncountyfair.org

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