A Fondness for 4-H Fairs
As a kid, the night before the county 4-H fair rivaled the anticipation on Christmas Eve. I loved fair days, when I awoke before dawn, hung out with friends and cousins, ate fair food, exhibited my gardening project and showed pigs.
In fact, I fondly remember my first 4-H pig, Big Red. My favorite childhood chewing gum seemed a fitting name for this crossbred pig with a red body and white belt of color around his middle. My grandma shrieked in excitement from the bleachers when the judges awarded him first place. The blue-ribbon pig had originated among the market stock at Grandpa’s farm.
While livestock shows have evolved, the fair today still resembles a reunion bringing together generations of exhibitors, from future 4-H’ers in strollers to great-grandpas who hand out dollars for each earned blue ribbon. Parents share their 4-H stories. Alumni reconnect. The active 4-H generation embraces the tradition and makes memories that involve fair-time friendships, pork burgers and vying for the clean stall award.
A Family Affair
What a joyful, satisfying feeling it is to watch my kids show projects that help them grow personally, learn life skills and discover their passions – and some nonpassions, like showing farm cats. In a feline fiasco, “Prince” vocally expressed his displeasure with vehicle travel and his attendance at the fairgrounds. Our whining cat set the background noise in the parking area, where moms stood at minivan hatchbacks to hand 4-H projects to their kids.
To the contrary, the most loved projects in our household include cake decorating, model rockets, flowers, vegetables and photography. My kids have embraced showing chickens instead of pigs, a similar livestock experience at the fair at a fraction of the size and cost but no less work. They have chicken chores every day of the year.
On fair days, the kids celebrate their work, hang out with friends, run the barns, frequent the food stand, play card games and tend to their animals. I visit with fellow 4-H parents, like-minded people with similar values and experiential goals for their kids. They can relate to washing chickens, shopping for show shirts and the need to help pull 30 onions to find five show-worthy ones of similar size and shape.
Fair time also accentuates my appreciation for my own parents and helps me realize why they plodded through project mishaps and stresses during my upbringing. I look forward to this summer’s fair experiences with a similar childlike anticipation, but this time of reliving my fondest childhood memories.