It’s fair season and the carloads of eager citizens are filling the parking lots and cueing up for the Zipper ride, but as you make your way past the fried raviolis, barking carnies, and nauseous tweens, take a minute to visit the animal barn and ask some questions. It’s all too easy in this day and age to forget the practical beginnings of the County fair system. Before analytics and genetics were the norm for agriculture, the fair served a very practical purpose. This was the place where farmers and ranchers congregated to share information, swap war stories, and peruse and purchase new genetics for their properties.
This face to face has largely been replaced by other means but the soul of the fair continues to live on in the heads, hands, heart, and health of the 4H program. We who attend the fair are able to watch the various animal shows and auctions led by perfectly primped and dressed animals AND handlers. What you don’t see is the sweat and tears that goes into raising these animals for the show. Raising animals is one of those activities that forces you face all of the harsh realities of life. Sickness, death, and frustration with their project all lead to a level of understanding for each of the participants that they could never acquire anywhere else. The slow general sterilization of our food system and it’s mechanics make it easy to shield ourselves and our children from what it takes raise healthy animals for food and show.
4H is one of the last bastions of independence in childhood that I can think of. It is a program where kids can socialize and learn in a supported environment. Where the celebratory high fives are accompanied by just as many hugs of condolence. It’s both a practical and social system where you can learn skills and make friends that will be with you for the rest of your life. So cruise on back to the animal barns and meet some of these amazing animals and participants. Ask what kind of chicken they raised, why they sheered their sheep before fair, or how to hold a rabbit. I guarantee that you will learn something in the process.