As a kid, the county fair was by far the highlight of my summer.
It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed working with my animals to get them ready for the show, meeting new friends who were from other towns and seeing what ribbons I received for not just my animal projects but for all my projects.
I was having so much fun that I didn’t realize I was learning.
Fairs teach kids life skills that help them later in life.
The obvious one is winning and losing. Life is always handing out ribbons… sometimes you get the top-blue and sometimes you get the dead-last pink. Either way, you learn something in the process.
Another lesson learned at the fair? Hard work pays off. You can always tell the kids who work with their animals versus the ones who don’t. The ones who do usually do well in the show ring.
It teaches the value of being a team player (which most organized sports do as well), but also the value in individualized effort.
Working with animals teaches patience. Those tame, clean, sleek cattle in the show ring were once wild, woolly creatures. It didn’t happen overnight. It takes hours of washing, primping and practicing to really make them shine and walk smooth. It all takes time and patience.
Fairs teach you responsibility. Caring for animals is a huge undertaking. Anyone out there with pets can understand that. Pride and ownership goes hand in hand with showing.
Many farmers were once kids at the fair, crying as their hog, lamb or steer was loaded on a truck for market (the fate of most farm animals). Therefore, it bothers me when livestock farmers are viewed as uncaring. Many learned at the tender age of ten the hard reality of life and death.
I’m not an emotional person but I cried like a baby when my favorite show cow took her last trailer ride. While the animals come and go, the memories and lessons learned with them stay well through adult life.
Now with a job in agricultural communication, I’m still all about the fun at a fair, but I also see this annual community event for the educational opportunity it is and not just for the kids there with animals.
It’s hard for ‘fair kids’ to put themselves in the shoes of the people walking through the barns who have never touched a farm animal, but they need to. Those kids who are learning (without realizing it) need to make themselves available for questions. Today’s consumer has all kinds of questions about animal care, farming and food. While fair kids are not the experts on any given subject, their sincerity and enthusiasm can go a long way to easing the public’s concerns about how their food is grown and raised.
As an adult looking back at the fair scene and now going back to help as a leader, I see it. Too many times exhibitors are too busy with other things to acknowledge fair-goers. Too many times visitors are too shy to ask the things they don’t understand. Too many times conversations are not initiated.
Fairs are packed full of fun for both the exhibitors and the visitors, but there HAS to be more dialogue. Whether you are the exhibitor, the parent or the family pushing the stroller I challenge you to do one thing this year: start the conversation.
Amy Eckelberg was raised on her family’s dairy farm near New London in Waupaca County. As an active member of the Sandy Knoll 4-H club, Eckelberg grew up showing hogs and dairy animals at the Waupaca County Fair and was a New London FFA member. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2012 with a degree in communication. Amy is the Director of Communications for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and resides in DeForest with her husband, Jonathan.
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