OTTAWA - If the tractors and other farming equipment, animals and displays aren’t enough to keep young visitors interested at the 79th annual Ottawa Valley Farm Show (OVFS), surely the appearance of five new, colourful faces will when the Carleton County 4-H Clown Club makes its debut at the show.
For the first time, members of the 4-H Clown Club will participate in the Farm Show as part of the 4-H display on the Civic Centre Concourse March 14-16 at Lansdowne Park.
The Ottawa Valley Farm Show, sponsored by the Ottawa Valley Seed Growers Association (OVSGA) features more than 300 exhibitors and is the largest event of its kind in Ontario east of Toronto.
This year, the show coincides with students’ spring break, and the colourful clowns will tour the show site and entertain children, as well as operate a stand offering face painting and balloon animals, to help raise the profile of 4-H. They will also teach visitors how to make balloon animals.
"Children can come and sit for free while their parents look at the machinery," Carleton County 4-H Clown Club leader Barb Smith of Osgoode said. "They can stay as long as they want because we have lots of supplies."
Smith has been a 4-H leader for 15 years with the lifeskills, clown, rabbit and llama clubs, and she was voted Leader of the Year in Ontario in 2002.
She started Canada’s very first 4-H Clown Club three years ago. She had a parent who was a professional clown, and he asked her if they would have a 4-H Clown Club.
She checked, and there were none in Canada, so they sent out for a 4-H Clown Club book from the US. They brought it to their organization, and the Carleton County 4-H Clown Club was born in 2003.
"It’s very good for people who are shy to overcome shyness because they have makeup on, and it’s not really them," Smith said. "It makes them more aware of other people’s feelings. It’s also very good for verbal communication and dealing with the public."
Smith says her members have really taken to clowning around.
"The members have become very creative with costumes and face painting," she said. "We do very well. We do an awful lot of fairs. We have done a few birthday parties, the Osgoode Trade Show and some private parties for companies."
The Clown Club has entertained at the Chesterville Fair, Russell Fair, Richmond Fair and Metcalfe Fair to name a few.
"They do very well because they like to do local events and to entertain in their community," Smith said. "They entertain seniors, and the look on the seniors’ faces when they’re making a balloon animal or hat is just amazing. (The members) feel good to give a smile."
Smith says her Clown Club has grown a lot in the past three years, and last year they had 18 members. The next biggest club is in Alberta.
"This is a great, fun club," she said. "Also, it teaches (members) the importance of etiquette dealing with the public. I have members who never say ‘boo,’ and they are the most talkative with the public just being in costume. You wouldn’t know it’s the same member. It gives them a lot of self-confidence."
Smith is also a member of the OVSGA, and she takes care of the 4-H end of things at the Farm Show, putting up all the displays. The OVSGA asked her if she’d be interested in entertaining the children who visit the show, and she decided to bring the Clown Club.
Smith will bring five clowns to the show each day, and some will walk around the buildings entertaining visitors, while others will stay at their station at the Civic Centre Concourse from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
"They’re really excited," she said. "They can hardly wait to get dressed up again and entertain. They’re hyper about going because it gets them to show their ability."
Organizers are excited to include the 4-H Clown Club at the show this year.
OVSGA president Keith Matthie says it is a great opportunity to get 4-H members even more involved in the show, and they will be contributing some money to 4-H in return for the clown service.
OVFS general manager Tom Van Dusen says the OVSGA has always thrown a lot of support behind 4-H, including providing grants to the provincial and Eastern Ontario 4-H organizations annually. As well, many members on the board and people who help with the show are active in 4-H.
"We have a close relationship with 4-H," he said. "We have supported 4-H for a long time, and this is a way to continue it."
Because the Farm Show falls during spring break, it is a great opportunity for budding farmers to learn about the industry, and the appearance of the Clown Club is another way to keep the young visitors entertained.
"It’s a good fit for us overall," Van Dusen said. "We entertain the kids, support 4-H and give 4-H members a chance to show their stuff."
Van Dusen says they don’t try to line up the show’s dates with spring break, but in the last few years, it has worked out that way.
"We don’t resist that, and we like it to a large extent," he said. "It’s not something we sought, but we like to see future farmers come to the show, especially with their parents. It’s good to see them there."