Farewell To The Fair
If you were one of the people who ventured out over the past week to the Palo Alto County Fairgrounds to look around at the exhibits and livestock, thank you! As a member of the County Fair Board, I thank you for your support – not specifically for what happens at the fair, but for your support of the young people who work to create the exhibits, raise the livestock and then work with the animals to show them before a judge.
What a person sees when they walk around at the fairgrounds is just like the tip of the proverbial iceberg – there’s so much beyond that goat nibbling at hay in its pen or a steer lying in the wood chips. There are hours, countless hours of working with that lamb or that market pig, grooming it, working at being able to handle the animal in the show ring.
That in itself is an art, one that is rewarded when the young people participate in the various showmanship competitions in their respective livestock shows. However, being able handle a market beef animal or a market hog in the show ring are only part of showmanship. How much does the exhibitor know about that animal? They know the weight, when it was born, its breeding, what it likes to eat, and in some cases, what it likes to do for fun.
The whole idea is to teach our future generation of farmers how to be responsible, compassionate keepers of livestock, as well as educated livestock producers.
There are plenty of opportunities for youth to learn other things, using the various static exhibit areas, such as clothing, baking, science, mechanics and engineering, home improvement and photography, just to name a few.
If you strolled through the 4-H Exhibits building, you saw displays of fantastic photography by young people – there’s a couple of junior photographers I would certainly like to see shoot a football game for me this season!
There were also examples of home improvement, where members constructed items for their home or farm – a cattle showbox that glistened with a deep lustre and a bench utilizing an old pickup tailgate – compete with solar lighting for accents.
The creativity of some of these young people was fully displayed for one and all to see, and for several local 4-H’ers, the next stop for their projects is an appearance in Des Moines at the Iowa State Fair in a couple of weeks, where people from all over the state, let alone the nation, will get to see their creativity and skill on display.
Of course, you see fun things at the fair, and sometimes you see the not-so-fun. There were times when I?witnessed tears of disappointment after an animal misbehaved, which is natural, and there were times of great joy when a judge walked up to a young person with an outstretched hand and uttered a simple phrase: “Congratulations – You’re my Grand Champion.”
There are also the smiles of pride on the faces of parents, siblings and grandparents when the youngest fair exhibitors, the CloverKids, take to the show ring with bucket and bottle calves, lambs and goats. Many’s the time an exhibitor is looking up into the stands to see familiar faces, give a secretive little wave, and then a friendly pat or scratch of the ear to the little creature they stand beside in the show ring.
The County Fair is a celebration of rural life – the good, the not-so-good, and even sometimes, the bad that we can do without. But most importantly, it is an educational opportunity for our young people. They learn the lessons of community, friendship, cooperation and good sportsmanship – lessons that will serve them a lifetime.
But the neatest thing about the county fair is that it transcends age. Over the past four days of the fair, I had opportunity to see parents who were in 4-H back in my day, who are now working with their children and grandchildren, in some cases, but the fun of the fair is still there for them, too. I also saw young people, whom I worked with at the fair in my early years on the board, who have returned home after college, and have joined the board to give something back to a program that gave them something years ago.
And then, Sunday afternoon, as the fair was wrapping up and livestock was being loaded up, I saw another one of those timeless moments – a youngster led their calf to the load out point, watched carefully by a big sister, who not too many years ago did the same thing. A scratch of the ear to the calf, the halter is slipped off, and our young exhibitor quickly walked away, eyes welling with tears as the animal walked into a holding pen.
Yes, the fair is over for another year, but for some youth, the planning will begin for next year’s fair in a few days and the cycle will thankfully begin anew for 2016.