It’s fair season and the smell of cotton candy, caramel popcorn, corn dog, hay and livestock is in the air!
A week ago, my youngest son, who was born and raised in Omaha and Chicago, experienced his first county fair. He went to Hartington to visit his girlfriend who is doing an internship with the local newspaper as a photojournalist. She has been gone most of the summer, working on projects for UNL and now the internship. Mike decided he needed to go see her. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but not necessarily happier. It was the week of the Cedar County fair and Anna had lots of photo opportunities she needed to attend to.
Mike was enlisted to help cover the American Legion baseball tournament going on. High school students from the area competed for the Class C2 baseball championship. The teams were from small towns, Staton, West Point, Beaver Crossing, Laurel, with populations around 2000 people, plus or minus a few hundred. Mike spent a day keeping score for the newspaper. But, before that, earlier in the week, he had the opportunity to accompany Anna as she covered the many events at the fair.
Mike’s descriptions of the events cracked me up! He described the small animal judging by saying, “Do you know how many categories they judge chickens on?” He said he kept seeing the same chickens over and over, being presented by the same kids over and over. Yet each judging was different and each chicken had the potential of winning a number of ribbons. Almost all of the small animals were chickens. To break the monotony, there were a couple rabbits, a gerbil and a tetra fish. The chickens were judged by their feathers (trophy to winner), by their pens (another trophy), even by their “vents” (butts). There were more categories than chickens, it seemed! The kids were also judged on their knowledge of chickens. Mike said he learned more about chickens that day than he ever cared to learn! “Did you know you can tell what color of egg a chicken will lay by looking at their ears?”
“Ears?” I said, “I didn’t know chickens had ears.”
“Neither did I,” Mike replied. “But if they have white ears, they lay white eggs, brown or red ears – brown eggs and blue ears – blue eggs.”
“Blue eggs? I’ve never seen blue eggs in HyVee!” (Although I have seen robin’s eggs and they are blue, speckled eggs.)
Mike explained how the judging for the “vents” went. Apparently, they check the chicken bottoms for parasites and cleanliness. The kids use toothbrushes to clean the vents. Mike and I both thought it was interesting terminology.
There was a separate event for dogs and cats which also included a llama. And, of course, the typical calf, sheep and hog judging. Mike found this all very foreign. I explained to him that the 4-Hers planned for the fair far in advance. County fairs are the pinnacle of the year for 4-H kids. The highlight. Then, if things go well, you might get to go to the State Fair!
Being involved in 4-H and preparing for the fair helps kids learn responsibility, how to talk to adults in a business-like or serious manner, how to convince adults you know what you’re talking about and that you can handle an animal as well as care for it. Cleaning up after a calf or hog builds character and humility as well as compassion. County fairs help build community.
County fairs also reflect the area in which they occur. When I was growing up in Dawson County, near the Platte River where farming is much more prevalent than ranching, we saw more crop judging. As a 4-Her, I was more likely to sew something for the fair or create a craft item for judging. I remember doing demonstrations at the county fair where we would explain how to clean venetian blinds or how to set up a tray of food. We also had singing contests where each 4-H Club performed a song that was judged. When we moved to Broken Bow, I wasn’t in 4-H because most of the clubs seemed to involve livestock since Custer County is mostly ranch country. I do remember my art teacher selecting one of my drawings for exhibit and it won a red ribbon.
Mike enjoyed being in Hartington and getting a taste of small town living. I think he prefers the city. That is what he’s used to. But it was good for him to see how friendly people are in small towns and how laid back it can be. Afterall, his mom was raised in small towns and his dad, a country kid.