The Pittsfords of Yorktown are farmers. Their family farms raise sheep, chicken and cows, and grow corn and hay. Tana Pittsford, matriarch of the family, also works at Menards. The three grown kids work as a general manager of a BBQ restaurant, a factory worker and a bartender. They’re starting their own families.
But that’s not what the Pittsfords do. The Pittsfords do 4-H.
The Pittsfords are a six-generation 4-H family reaching back to the birth of the organization, legendary in Yorktown for their wins and ribbons. The 5th generation, Dustin, Felicia and Morgan, were 10-year 4-Hers known for the sheer volume of projects they submitted.
“We only had one advantage,” Tana said. “We took over 50 projects to the fair each year.”
Other 4-Hers might have tightened their focus on livestock, especially if their parents were recognized in that field. Ward family for Beef, Smoot for swine, Lovett for sheep, Stegmeier for goats, Hartzel for dairy—but the Pittsfords are known for anything and everything.
“It was easier for them because they had the money to do all that. We had pigs, we had sheep, we had cattle but not all the money for that extra boost up,” Dustin said. “Even without the advantage, I excelled at everything I did.”
Dustin entered anywhere from 20 to 28 projects each fair, which is far more than the average 4-H entrant.
“A family of three entering 50 projects? I think that’s an extreme,” said Tony Carrell, 4-H Extension Specialist. “The average child enters three to five projects in maybe three to five subject areas”
The Pittsford kids were raised in a 4-H home, by two 4-H parents who met while in 4-H, with a grandmother, a 4-Her, who was known for overseeing all of the family 4-H projects.
“I love 4-H. It was such a learning experience every year. Fair was my favorite time of year. It was my favorite week,” Dustin said. “It was hectic but always worth it all. It was just kinda all about getting there.”
One of the family secrets seems obvious—they read the fair guidebook, and they follow the project instructions step by step. Tana calls the guidebook the “summer bible” and tells her 4-H group, as well as her children, to know their bible in and out.
“Whenever [my group] asks me an easy question, I’ll say, ‘Did you read your bible?’” Tana said. “Parents will call me, and I’ll say, ‘Did so and so read the bible? Did you read the bible?’
“I used to highlight my bible for each kid, green for Felicia, blue for Dustin, yellow for Morgan. I would flip through, and we’d know exactly where we all needed to be.”
Every year of competing, the Pittsfords knew they would walk away with several reserve or grand-champion ribbons. They rarely received a mere first place.
Morgan didn’t realize the magnitude of their projects and winnings until she was a junior in high school. Sitting at her kitchen table with fellow 4-Hers, her friend said her goal was to get a grand-champion ribbon.
“I was shocked. I said, ‘What?’ kinda surprised. She just looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, I’ve only got one ever.’ And that’s when I realized that this girl was just an average 4-Her, but we have boxes of grand-champion ribbons. Boxes. I couldn’t tell you how many I have.”
Now the 5th gens have grown up, attended college and made careers of their own. But the sixth generation is on the rise. Wyatt Pittsford, Dustin’s eldest son, demonstrates the same knack for projects in his Mini 4-H exhibits.
Wyatt presented five projects this year, including lamb, shetland sheep, gardening, chicken and dinosaurs. The 7-year-old’s favorite was the dinosaur poster project.
“I want to do dinos,” he said. “I want to do the big T-Rex.”
“Wyatt had a blast at the fair this year,” said his dad. The boy has one more year of Mini 4-H before he moves into 4-H proper.
The 5th gens are excited to watch the next generation to fill their massive shoes and plan to always be involved in 4-H in some way.
“I did 4-H with [Wyatt], I walked my sheep out and Wyatt showed my sheep,” said his aunt Morgan. “It’s so bizarre, it’s happening so fast, but it’s just awesome.”
Laura Arwood is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a group of 30 students telling Indiana’s stories from a trailer somewhere between the cheese sculpture and the biggest sow. This Ball State University immersive-learning project works for elephant ears.