The judge’s comments were muffled as they came loudly over the microphone. It was humid, hot and the bleachers I was sitting on were hard. The scene that played out before my eyes was anything but glamorous — 25 kids and their pigs packed into a tiny show ring.
It was a sweaty, chaotic mess, but I was soaking up every moment of it.
These days I spend most of my time in an apartment in the city. Although I get to work in agriculture, sometimes I feel a bit far (2,627 miles to be exact) from my rural roots. However, this evening I was back where it all started, a local county fair. Although I wouldn’t find the southern accents around the ring at the fair in my hometown, this evening reminded me where the important work in building the future of agriculture is really happening. In today’s competitive show world, it’s easy to put a spotlight on the prestigious national shows, but I think our local county fairs could deserve a little media coverage. So here are a few sights you might see if you hit up the local county fair.
1. Hand/Homemade Stall Décor
It might be hand-drawn on poster board purchased at the nearest Walmart or it’s a work of art put together by a creative mom. The names will make you laugh and the drawings will make you say “awww”. One year, I actually knitted some of my stall decorations for county fair. The extras served as my 4-H “fiber arts” project. I thought the little felted stuff sheep looked fabulous wired to the top of our stalls, they probably didn’t, but I was very proud of my hard work.
2. The Frazzled (but caring) Extension Agent
This person has worked all year for fair week. He or she has spent countless hours and late nights working to make this event run smoothly. Everyone has a question, wants some kind of exemption or explanation or wants to let this person know that the power/water/air conditioning is out. Their phone rings off the hook during fair week and there is no way they’ll get enough sleep. However, they know and are invested in each and every kid that will walk into the show ring that week.
These come in the form of happy tears when a family celebrates a long, hard-earned win. You may see them quietly slide down the cheek of an older kid who finally realized they’ve shown for the last time. Big, sappy tears will roll down the red face of a first-year 4-Her who has to sell their animal for the first time. There won’t be a dry eye in the barn when local businesses band together to buy an animal that’s proceeds will start a memorial scholarship fund, or help a young member who’s family has faced incredible hardship.
4. The 4-H/FFA Super Mom
She’s got snacks and is loaded down with extra rags, halters, and more. You name it she’s got it or she’ll run to go get it.
5. The Fair/Rodeo Queen
She looks glamorous, has a sparkling crown and had to become a confident public speaker to wear that sash. She will do more than pass out ribbons and banners during fair week. She’ll inspire others, serve as an ambassador for the fair and make looking good in the horrible heat seem effortless.
6. The Food
We’ve been over this one recently, but the food is always amazing, messy and often served by a local smile.
7. A chewed up Ribbon
For some reason, livestock seem to think the prize is food and will snag their “treat” from a back pocket, a nearby showbox or even one hanging from their own stall card.
8. Naps in Unusual Places
Fair week is tiring and 4-H and FFA members are prone to fall asleep anywhere. It might be a chair at the end of an aisle or in the stall with the beloved show animal.
9. Livestock on the Loose
This almost always happens when heading to or from the wash racks. Everyone will drop what they’re doing and begin chasing the rogue lamb/goat/steer until it’s returned to its rightful owner.
10. Memories & Friendships being Formed
It may start with the lending of a piece of livestock grooming equipment, a common love for naming market animals with silly names or a common hatred of early mornings, bonds are being formed that will last a lifetime.
The county fair may not be as glamorous as the American Royal and it may be a chaotic event for the families who choose to exhibit livestock, but in all the mess (and smell) there is something beautiful. It’s here in the heat and the sweat, the hard bleachers and the sticky cotton candy fingers that memories are formed, passions are born and young leaders are made.