One of the largest 4-H programs in Kentucky is the country ham project. Last year, over 750 4-H members started the eight-month program where 4-H members prepare their hams for the state fair competition.
The country ham curing program is just one of many educational and character building programs 4-H offers that doesn’t require youth or their families to own considerable amounts of acreage, livestock or have a background in agriculture.
The 4-H country ham project draws in hundreds of youth participants from across the state each year. Through this project, youth experience the process of curing a ham, as well as learning about animal science and communications. The project begins in January of each year and until August, youth clean the hams several times.
In August, the hams get their final cleaning and youth pick out their “best” ham to take to the Kentucky State Fair. While at the fair, youth’s hams are judged based on various factors and the youth give a speech about their ham. At the fair, producers and meat buyers judge hams. The hams are divided into two different categories, smoked and non-smoked, and by the age of the youth. Hams are judged on aroma, lean -to-fat ratio and shape, but this is only 40 percent of the youth’s entire score. Youth must also present a five-to-seven minute speech about a topic related to the ham curing process, which counts for 60 percent of the score.
Seventeen 4-H club members from Harlan, Bell and Knox counties and a few dedicated adults visited Arveybell in Middlesboro in January to start their 4-H country ham project. These 4-Hers embarked on a project that will test their work ethic, resolve and eventually their communication skills. After eight-months of diligent work and learning, this group will have the reward of an experience at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville and each 4-Her will take a country ham to enjoy with their families.
This year, George Schneider of Arveybell really went above and beyond by allowing us the use of his facility and lending his expertise and support to our project. According to Raymond Cox, Harlan County 4-H agent, many thanks go to Brandy Calvert, Bell County 4-H agent and the Bell County Farm Bureau for allowing Knox and Harlan County 4-H club members to be a part of the of the old tradition of curing country hams.