COLUMBIA CITY — While many 4-H programs are waning nationwide, that is not the case in Whitley County, which has seen some of the biggest increases in numbers in the state.

Todd Geiger, of Whitley County 4-H, had nothing but good to report to the Whitley County Commissioners at their meeting last week, where he gave his regular update.

In 2018, there were 811 4-H members — up 42 from the previous year. The program is on track to surpass that number again this year, Geiger said. As of last Monday, there were 786 enrolled.

“We’re quite a bit ahead of where we were last time this year,” Geiger said. “That’s really exciting. Only a handful (in the state) have seen growth over multiple years. Last year Whitley was one of the top, if not the top, in the state for growth.”

While many have the perception that 4-H is only for those who live on farms or have access to farm animals, the program has much more to offer.

While livestock is still part of the program’s rich roots, only nine of the 63 total projects are livestock based.

Photography, arts and crafts and baked foods are popular non-animal projects that are on display in the 4-H Center during fair week — many of which offer the chance to advance to the State Fair.

Photography participants are on the rise, with 88 in 2017 and 102 in 2018.

“It looks like we’ll be back over 100 this year as well,” Geiger said.

Of the nine livestock species, there are 13 total animal projects if the different animal projects are separated. Of those 13, six of those clubs are growing, five are holding steady and two are on the decline.

For the first time Geiger can remember, another species surpassed swine — feeder calves. There were 158 feeder calves at the fair last year and 156 hogs.

The club is working hard to provide more outside of fair week — from programs at the schools to remote controlled cars, a junior chef academy, bowling and dog activities.

“We’re proud of our 4-H program,” Commissioner George Schrumpf said. “It’s been a premiere part of Whitley County for a long time.”

Commissioner Tom Western’s family has been a part of the Whitley County Fair for decades.

“The week of the fair is like a national holiday in Whitley County,” Western said.

He applauded the 4-H Clubs Inc., 4-H Council, and Geiger as the backbone and leader of the program.

“I couldn’t do it without all of the volunteers,” Geiger said.

Also at the Commissioners meeting:

• Sheriff Marc Gatton asked for a favorable pass to the council to utilize CEDIT funds to repair the elevator at the Whitley County Jail.

• The Commissioners heard from representatives from Impact Postage Machines about a proposal that would save the county about $1,100 a year in postage equipment.