It is county fair time—locally and pretty much all 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 together the generations of agriculture to experience a culture and a heritage that has been left behind by the majority population of this country.
Yet the fair is a teaching tool as well. I believe one its best functions 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 exhibit their accomplishments.
Fair projects can include anything from baking and knitting to crafts and photography, but at most fairs, the focus is on the show ring where youth exhibit animals they’ve been preparing for months.
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 confirmation, grooming and obedience.
Fairs are about families. What you don’t see when you arrive at the fair is the hustle, bustle, cram, jam and near panic that goes on within those families for a few weeks prior to the fair itself.
Sometime around the Fourth of July, the fair families look up at the calendar and gasp. Only a few 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, exercised occasionally and not much else. Exercise and nutrition plans quickly take on a scientific edge with the only comfort coming from hearing the neighboring 4-H’er say, “I still can’t catch mine.”
Ok, so maybe almost everyone, at least someone, started as late as the kid you thought had it all together until he admitted to finally just now getting to work with his goats, sheep and steer.
Ag teachers and extension agents hit the road almost 24/7 during the final “crunch” to get every fair animal in the county clipped and trimmed in time. 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 re-organized, show ring wardrobes planned and the last-minute rush is on to finish the 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.
Families make memories they won’t have time to enjoy until years later, but when that season in their life passes, they will first feel like a big part of their lives is missing. It really was more fun than it seemed like at the time.
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.