Fair fare

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The kingdom is without a queen. Tonight there is no contest, no coronation, there are no contestants, no gowns, no tiaras, no applause, no tears, no laughter. There's no communications showcase or clothing fashion show. Tomorrow night there is no talent competition, no tractor pull. There are no crowds lining the showbarn, no families and 4-H or FFA leaders gathered around to pull and groom and clean and cage the animals for show. No judges addressing audiences in the bleachers about what makes a good calf, hog or hen.

But there are hard-working youth and animals ready to go. There are projects that took weeks or months of work and binders and folders written late at night. The agricultural show goes on as many events have this spring and summer, without an audience.

County fairs are more than just a yearly carnival, they’re a chance for community building and leadership development opportunities, and that's true whether there's an audience or not.

Here is what we have learned from county extension leaders about the years with no pandemic turning our schedules and expectations to manure:

The scene is much different from the eye of the storm. Certainly the event creates a buzz amongst those “involved” – the exhibitors, volunteers and staff. Though planning starts an entire year in advance, there are so many last minute preparations. Exhibitors rush to finish projects, volunteers make final arrangements, staff double check task lists. The days fly by, the countdown speeds up, conversations everywhere turn to the big event, “What do you have left to do before fair week?”

Most people fail to see the true impact of the county fair. This is likely because they view the county fair merely as a traveling carnival they may or may not make a visit to this year, or they are so wrapped up in the details of what they need to get done for the event that they never have a chance to enjoy it.

A 4-H alumnus will tell you that like other young adults, they make it home to visit only a few times each year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and during their home county fair. There are county fairs everywhere, so why make a special trip when you can get the same experience anywhere? Because the county fair is more than a carnival, it is a community. Attending the fair is an opportunity for 4-H alumni to thank the 4-H leaders that have helped them shape their future from the time they first joined until they completed their last project, and into their current undertakings. Sharing in success stories reaffirms the leader’s purpose in the program.

The county fair tradition is woven into the fabric of nearly every American community. It presents opportunities for young people to foster life skills such as communication, leadership, goal setting, work ethic, responsibility and sportsmanship. Community service and volunteer leadership are at the root of the success of the county fair. Generations of community leaders have been born out of the ideologies instilled in our youth and their families through their involvement in 4-H clubs, an institution that furnishes a legacy of volunteer service and youth development; renewing leadership to the local community and beyond. Many hands make light work is a living philosophy that accomplishes tasks beyond imagination.

People from throughout the area are drawn together for a common cause: showcasing the achievements of their citizens and promoting their youth. Individual talents are employed toward the success of the whole community. Families take time to learn together, sharing in life lessons and building new skills. Cross county relationships are developed, broadening perspectives and intermingling experience. Long-time friendships are rekindled over new memories.

Next time the county fair sets up shop in your town, don’t just dismiss the event as another entertainment option. Certainly the affair will have an economic impact, but more importantly the influence on catalyzing community development will have a longer lasting stimulus. Immerse yourself in the community building and leadership development opportunities at your local county fair to discover the real impacts it has on American communities.

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