Sweat equity pays off at county fair


Our county fair, among the very last in the state to open each year, is under way.
The timing of this fair delights many, as they can select their very best produce to enter for 4-H and open class judging, and cattle and hogs are given just a little extra time to reach as close to perfection as possible.
But, with each passing year, the timing seems to give our school administrators and teachers battle ground on which to make a stand.
Building my case. I have a strong feeling that there are many children who learn just as much through their 4-H projects and the privilege of taking them to the county fair as they do through daily attendance at school for an entire year.
This isn’t based on any scientific, precise study, I admit, it is just my hunch, but it comes from years of observation of many children from many different walks of life.
There are many who tend to think of a county fair as all sizzle and bright lights and kids fooling around. They have never looked at the fair from nine months out, or two months out, or two weeks out, or even two days out.
A look back. Rachel Peden, in columns written in the 1950s, describes, “A strong 4-H club has almost the same spirit as a big family; its members are loyal, generous, candid; they quarrel; they work hard; they respect and help each other.
“For farm youth the 4-H club is the foundation of social life, with skating, swimming, caroling parties, hay rides, a talent show, a trip to a city amusement park, business meetings well conducted, judging contests; demonstrations of skill at club meetings and in district’s competitions; a dress revue at which the sewing 4-H’ers model their projects shortly before the County Fair.
“The 4-H club is a conveniently organized group for community chores, too, such as picking up beer cans and trash from the county road in the spring clean-up.”
Rachel Peden’s husband, who served as president of their county fair board for several years, said that, “I think instead of a head, heart, hands and health, the 4-H pledge ought to mention a hide, hair, horn, and hoof. On the morning of the opening of fair week, however, it ought to be simply, a hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry.'”
Changed just a bit. Now, some things about Rachel Peden’s observations have changed and shifted over the years since the 1950s, but her husband’s final observation sure hasn’t.
I admire greatly the 4-H and FFA advisors, parents, fair board members and all sorts of volunteers who work so hard behind the scenes to make a county fair successful. Anyone who doubts that it is hard work has never caught a glimpse of any of it.
For me, I remember the thrill of having our own show box in the dairy barn to gather with friends made me feel like we belonged there, like we had claimed a little bit of our own real estate at that county fair. It had been earned through months and months of work and responsibility. Sweat equity, finally paying off.
Grand finale. That grand finale we call county fair week can be filled with sizzle and fizzle and loads of fun, but there’s a sprinkling of frustration and scraped knuckles and sore muscles and a little heartache stirred in to the stew for kids who participate.
Make no mistake about it, there are all sorts of lessons learned along the way, lessons not taught in a book in the confines of a classroom. It is a part of Americana worth celebrating.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.