It is county fair time across America. Spending a day at the fair is as much a lesson in history and anthropology as it is an excuse to eat homemade pie and see cute bunnies in their best fur coats.
County fairs nurture the roots of rural life. They are one of the few places left that bring the generations of agriculture together to experience a culture and a heritage that has been left behind by most of the population of this country.
Yet the fair is a teaching tool as well. One of the reasons it exists is to provide today’s youth with a glimpse into the lives of the generations before them.
Local 4-H clubs and FFA chapters champion agricultural education and community service. The members work on several projects throughout the year and come to county fairs to show off their accomplishments.
Fair projects can include anything from baking and knitting to crafts and photography, but at most fairs, showing off farm animals the youth have been raising is the focus. The majority of the fair’s events are livestock contests in which 4-H and FFA members display their animals and receive prizes based on which animal shows best conformation, grooming and obedience.
Fairs are about families. You won’t find any bawdy acts or provocative contests at any local fair that I’m aware. The raciest event in one county fair was the Momma Lamb and Poppa Pig Showmanship contests. While the term “showmanship” might indicate a serious competition, this one is strictly for fun and what was seen cannot be unseen.
In this contest, full grown, seemingly responsible adults who have youngsters entered in the fair or are FFA advisors and 4-H leaders purposed to make fools of themselves for the merriment of the crowd and the resigned embarrassment of their children. The inaugural event had people laughing so hard they couldn’t walk or talk. It’s been a few years, but it is still talked about today.
What you don’t see when you arrive at the fair is the hustle, bustle, cram, jam and near panic that goes on for the last weeks prior to the fair.
Sometime just after the Fourth of July the fair families look up at the calendar and gasp. Only four weeks until the county fair! They begin to give a serious eye to the livestock that up until that moment simply got fed twice a day and not much else.
Exercise and nutrition plans take on a scientific edge with the only comfort coming from hearing the neighboring 4-H’er say, “I still can’t catch mine.” Then the crunch to get every animal in the county clipped and trimmed before the fair puts the extension agent and the ag teachers on the road 24/7.
You can spot them easily. They are carrying at least one set of hog scales and two trimming racks in the back of their pickup. They spend long days crisscrossing the county to clip the next set of lambs or spend hours fine tuning the coiffure on a couple of fat steers.
Show boxes are sorted and reorganized, show ring wardrobes planned and the last-minute rush is on to finish braiding, welding and baking projects.
Then finally the fair becomes about relaxing, having fun and showing off a little of what has been learned and accomplished. Lifelong memories are made annually as another generation passes through the show ring.
See you at the fair!
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.