August 22, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

Bernheim Forest offered the perfect backdrop for the state 4-H land judging competition held last Friday in conjunction with the Kentucky State Fair.

Isaac W. Bernheim began the process in 1928 of providing open spaces for people of all ages to enjoy. He didn't live to see the forest opened to the public but did see the beginnings of the process.

"He would have really enjoyed seeing the young people here today," said Mike Caldwell, natural areas restoration manager. Some 55 4-H members traveled to the park located in Bullitt County to participate in the land judging competition.

Steve Kelly, Fleming County 4-H agent and contest superintendent, said students in the competition judge the land based on its suitability in terms of farming. They determine how often it can be cropped, what crops should be grown on it, or if it should always be in forest or in grass. In making that determination they study the slope, the depth of soil, type of soil and what conservation measures they would need in order to keep it productive and protect the environment, he said.

"It's a very worthwhile contest and can help them, not just if they are going to be in farming but all through their life because you are always going to be dealing with land in some way," Kelly said.

Four sites are judged in the contest and each site is picked and analyzed by the University of Kentucky Extension soils scientists. Their determinations are used to grade the 4-H members score cards.

Darold Akridge, Bullitt County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said it takes a cooperative effort for his county to host the event annually. County agents, vo-ag instructors, conservation district specialists and just about anyone having to do with youth or land management are involved by the time the contest is held.

"It's probably more relevant today than ever," said Akridge. "Subdivisions are popping up like mushrooms in the forest after a rain. "Water management, soil management, water availability and actually trying to make sure that water stays clean and pure for the next generation will only happen with the best possible soil management."

4-H member David Wilson of Jackson County said the most important information to study is the rules. "You need to study them before you actually go out and judge it because everything works together," he said. "If you don't know the rules, you can't go out physically and mark your card like you should."

Wilson said when reviewing the sites you need to know slope and to look at the core sample for amount of topsoil and for gray coloring which may be from water build up. "The trickiest part is second guessing myself," he said.

Lauren Ditsch of Breathitt County said participated in land judging for about 5 years and said she's learned a great deal.

"When I first started I didn't know anything about it," she said. "I've learned how to go out and by looking at land determine what the slope may be. I've learned how to determine how much erosion has taken place and how much drainage is a problem.

Wilson and Ditsch recommend the contest to other 4-H members.

"It's fun and if someone is interested in Ag as a career this is a really good place for them to learn," she said.

"It's all about experiences, about going out and getting hands on experience whether its on Ag or anything else," Wilson said. "And it helps me if maybe I ever want to do this as a career. Also, it's about going out and meeting new people and having fun."

Monroe Rasnake ,Extension UK soils scientist, has worked with the contest for 22 years and said the 4-H youth haven't changed much over the years and the information they learn can be used throughout their lives.

" The information can be used everywhere from buying a home site to farming to a flower bed," he said. "They learn what's important in terms of soil that's able to grow a good plant."

Awards are given to the highest individual scores in the junior and senior division with the highest scoring high school team winning the state title.

This year's team winner was Harrison County. The team will travel on Oklahoma to compete in the national contest and they have a winning tradition to uphold. Last year's state winner, Madison County, went on to win the national competition.