The County Fair: An Education For All Ages

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!! No, we aren’t talking about Christmas or the song about “caroling out in the snow” (sorry Andy Williams and Santa Claus!) However, we are talking about something equally as magical and wonderful. If you spend any time around county fairs and youth livestock shows, chances are you feel the same way I do about this time of year. It’s truly my FAVORITE and nothing makes me happier than spending time at a fair or youth livestock show and watching kids proudly show off their projects.

I have an observation and I want to talk about it. Many parents and adult volunteers say a phrase (a lot) out at the fair…and I’m not sure how accurate it is. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that many of us grown-ups (what is a “grown up” anyway??) say “we do allllllllll of this for the kids” or “people need to remember that this is alllllll for the kids!” as if none of the rest of us get anything out of it. As this year’s county fair season continues and I spend more time in various barns, I call BS, FAKE NEWS, GARBAGE on that. Please allow me to explain what I mean.

Hi, I’m Caroline - a 4-H AND FFA Alumni. That means that when I was growing up, I lived and breathed all things 4-H projects and steer showing. My favorite place to be was wherever my steer was, and I had my share of stressful nights trying to put the finishing touches on photography and fine arts projects. My time in both of these outstanding programs taught me many life lessons - from responsibility, to hard work, to building friendships and more. I am confident that I would have learned these lessons eventually, but I don’t think I would’ve learned them NEARLY as well had it not been for 4-H and FFA. When I was this age…I learned A LOT about life and agriculture.

These days, my involvement in the county fair looks much different than when I was growing up. Even though I am not in the show ring anymore, I am better able to see the impact 4-H and FFA had on me and so many others. This year was the first year I was given the opportunity to be livestock chairman of the Boone County Fair, and I learned more than I can put into words. Just when I thought the Boone County Fair had taught me all that it could…I was proved wrong. I learned about managing LOTS of different kinds of personalities, setting a good example for kids, and managing details to make a week full of events run smoothly. What seemed like an insignificant detail to me sometimes turned out to be a VERY big deal to someone else…and it was hard to remember that at times. I am currently going through all of this…and I am learning more than I ever dreamed I would about life and agriculture once again.

One thing I didn’t expect to witness was the learning that took place for the parents and adult volunteers. Some parents had a much higher learning curve than others. It’s their child’s first year in 4-H or FFA, maybe their first year showing an animal, and they aren’t sure of anything at all. They don’t know where the animals need to be, what their kid should be doing, what time the show starts, how many snacks their kids will eat, or how much they will sweat in a week’s time. Not to mention helping their child through all of the things THEY are learning through their new process as well. I watched these parents learn all of these things and SO MUCH MORE during county fair week.

Some parents, however, have done this thing before. They’ve helped their child get their animals to the fair, packed the cooler full of snacks and gatorade, made sure the show clothes were in the car, worked out a feeding/watering schedule for their family, and helped their child navigate the craziness of the week. You might think that these parents have nothing to learn…but that couldn’t be more false. These are the parents I watched learn their kids better, learn things about themselves that they didn’t know before, become closer with other adults in their community, and take a step back on their lives to soak in everything that was happening around them. They learned things that many GROWN-UPS have trouble doing at times. I am not a parent (yet) but I am confident that when this time comes for me…I will learn LOTS about things that I don’t even know exist yet about life and agriculture.

Moral of the story here, the kids learn A LOT through 4-H, FFA, and the county fair. I’m not trying to downplay that at all. And while it’s true that we are at the fair for the purpose of giving the kids the best experience possible…we need to start acknowledging that as “grown-ups” we are learning just as much, if not more, than the kids we’re helping. Learning life lessons at the county fair doesn’t stop when we age out of the show ring.

If you spent time out at your local county fair this year, I challenge you to take a step back and reflect on the time you spent there. What people did you talk to? What kids did you teach? Who (a child or a fellow adult) did you set an example for? When I reflected on my fair week, I was shocked at how much I had learned and didn't even realize it. If you’re anything like me, I bet you’ll have a similar experience.

Until next time, friends!