There is nothing new about an agricultural fair. As long as humans have domesticated stock they have gotten together to trade knowledge, genetics, and innovation. Fair season in Ulster County is fast approaching and as I put the finishing touches on the 4-H livestock records and plan my crazy week I am excited to be part of this ancient tradition. Livestock and vegetable growers rely on the information that they get from their neighbors and colleagues. “How is that new silage corn working out?” “Where did you have your ducks processed,” new dressage fashions and old tricks to get the tractor started are just some of the conversations you can be privy to if you make your way to the “older” parts of the fair.
Now more than ever we need to encourage our youth to learn and participate in agriculture. Not all of them will like it and not many of them will enter the world of soiled jeans and dusty hair but I can speak from my own experience on this one. I grew up in New England and the state fair was one of the summer highlights for my family. At that time I would have been happy to spend my entire time at the fair with the animals and I was always jealous of the 4-H kids who slept with the cows or who felt comfortable and confident as they spoke about their stock. I knew that I wanted that but I didn’t really know how to break into the world. Everyone seemed like they had known each other their whole lives and my single mom had a hard enough time just getting food on the table let alone helping us to raise it ourselves.
Now grown and working in the field that I have always loved but never accessed, I see the same things I saw growing up and going to the fair because they are there. These families do all know each other and these kids compete, and learn, and make mistakes as a unit and as friends. The Ulster County 4-H program is run by an amazing staff who make sure that their participants are getting the most out of this experience and that usually involves encouragement and guidance, basically letting the kids do it themselves. Especially exciting is the Ulster County 4-H auction which will take place Saturday August 6th at 7:30 PM in the goat and sheep ring. Here you can witness a real honest-to-goodness livestock auction where the 4-H youth will be showing off their husbandry and hoping to make a few dollars for their college funds. Please come and support our future veterinarians and farmers!
So in between the rides and the shopping, the ridiculous nachos and fake cowboy hats, make your way over the livestock barns. Talk to the kids who are there with their animals. Ask them the questions about what you have always wanted to know and the ones that you may be embarrassed to ask. For many of these participants, answering questions and having the public admire your animals is a highlight that will build into a memory to be cherished. I guarantee that you will all be better off for the experience and we can all get back to the roots of the fair; sharing.