Tuesday, July 31, 2012

County Fair-The Ultimate Summer Vacation

Long days, short nights, dinner from a cooler and the last farewell to our steer - county fair week usually brings complete exhaustion, an empty wallet, and a huge pile of dirty laundry that needs to be tackled. After all the awards are given, the animals auctioned off, and the stall displays torn down, everyone is beyond ready for a hot shower, home-cooked meal and a long night's rest in their own bed. But still, just a month or two later and we're ready to do it again!!

This past week, as I arrived in Columbia, Mo for my new job, I was able to attend the Boone County Fair and be a part of the show ring action. I grew up heavily active in 4-H showing cattle, horses, sheep, hogs and even my dog one year. I participated in welding, shooting sports, public speaking, woodworking, livestock judging, and held almost every office I could. Needless to say, for the majority of my childhood, 4-H was my summer life.

As I had the opportunity to return to my roots after being out of the show scene for a couple years due to college and work, I enjoyed seeing the next draft of youngsters walking into the ring and showing off their goats, steers and hogs. It brought back floods of memories and made me think about what this program and the tradition of county fair meant to me.

I couldn't help but smile as I watched a young girl manhandle a goat that probably weighed more than she did and continuously look ringside for the cues from her coach, a young man not much younger than myself. Her determination, competitive attitude and eager spirit was entertaining as well as enjoyable. It made me laugh as I took pictures of two little girls chasing a hog around the ring in the PeeWee division of the swine show. Although they were doing little more than tapping the hog with their bats and clearly without any real control of the animal, it was still humorous to see their excited smiles and witness their desire to be in the ring at that young age.

Then I was brought back to more recent years as I listened to young people prepare to market their animals at the sale for the last time. The auctioneer announced that this was the exhibitor's last year in 4-H to encourage higher bidding. As one young lady announced she was donating the proceeds to form a scholarship fund, she explained how she had grown up raising and showing hogs her whole life and struggled emotionally to bring this journey to an end. I thought about my numerous years raising and showing cattle and what not only the competition meant to me, but the countless hours spent raising, selecting and preparing my stock for the show.

County fairs go beyond the showmanship award, champion hog or highest rate-of-gain steer. It's more than having the top selling lamb at the auction or sending the most pictures to the state fair. Spending a week at the county fair is about connecting with friends, caring for animals and committing to action everything learned over the last year. 4-H'ers know how to work hard, stay up late, get up even earlier, have fun and learn.

Over the 11 years I competed in 4-H, I can't even begin to count the many memories I made. Whether it was staying up late setting up a stall display, getting to the barn before sunrise to get 8 head of cattle ready for show, or giving my steer a hug goodbye after the sale, I had fun, made friends, and learned important life lessons. I learned about being committed to my animals and providing the best care for them. I learned my dinner and bed were always last on the priority list. And I practiced good sportsmanship whether I won or lost.

4-H is part of life for many young people, myself included. It is a training ground for future endeavors. It provides opportunities otherwise completely lost and it strengthens young leaders and promotes strong character. Without my 4-H involvement and agriculture background, I don't know where I would be today.

Not only am I proud of how it shaped my life, but I'm excited about giving back and helping the next "show team". As I told one of my "adopted moms" at the fair this year, "I'm wondering which will come sooner, me getting to show again or finding a little person to help!"

If you were involved in 4-H, how did it shape your life? What memories do you have of county fair? What do you plan to do to pass on what you learned to the next draft of youngsters?

Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin' for the brand!!!

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