It’s #FairFriday | 7 characteristics taught at county fairs

Urban and rural dwellers alike agree that a fun summer event is a local county fair. The aromas of greasy fries, the echoing voices of announcers across the grounds and the ceaseless smiles seen on fairgoer faces combine for a vibrant environment. Growing up, I lived for those summers. Through 4-H, FFA and Junior Fairboard, I kept busy preparing for that one week of the year. Reflecting on this week of the Wood County Fair, it has been four years since I was prepping animals in the barns, blending milkshakes and riding around in the opening parade. If there is a valuable lesson to be learned, attending and participating in county fairs build character. Here are seven characteristics built at county fairs.

1. Family pride.
I began showing cattle at age 8. To do this, I needed lots of help from my parents and family to ensure not only my safety, but the safety of my calves. Show persons build relationships not just with their supporters before the show ring, but create stronger bonds with our family members. Weihl Farms has always raised Shorthorns and being proud of our culture has developed through exhibiting animals at the fair. Children and young adults who don’t raise their own, but purchase livestock from other breeders, feel this same passion and connectedness among family because of the fair. The photo above is my dad and I showing heifers in open class from 2008.

2. Responsibility.

Proper management of animals includes their health. We
don’t just wash them, take care of their hair and clip them
to make them look “pretty”. It also keeps them healthy.

Taking care of yourself is important. But taking care of another living creature is a responsibility. Feeding, watering, grooming and training animals can seem daunting, but is often rewarding for show persons in 4-H and FFA. Responsibility is a key characteristic you will see in young individuals at county fairs. The students learn the process and often the business and results. Take a look in the FFA projects building. Woodworking projects, crops and produce are also examples of how responsibility plays a role in youth development. Junior Fairboard members also have a large responsibility during fair, ensuring shows run smoothly, exhibitors are taking care of their animals and guests are enjoying the fair.

3. Don’t cry over a spilled milkshake, clean up the mess, get a new one, and move on.
To accompany responsibility, attitude is its counterpart. As this subtitle says, you can enjoy your milkshake until it gets spilled or you can learn from your mistake of knocking it over and get a new one to enjoy. It is kind of the glass half full vs. glass half empty effect. Having a positive attitude can make all the difference and many at county fairs have a great one!

4. Sportsmanship.
Students learn friendly competition early. If you began showing a species of animal, you will typically see the same friends and competitors judging against you. This competition builds motivation and work ethic for you to want to improve your skills. After a challenging day in the show ring, it is good to learn to shake hands with the other young adults and understand how you did well and what they did well. Then, make adjustments for next year.

5. King and Queen contestants are all royalty.
In opening fair parades, you see fair royalty in a front carriage or vehicle to welcome guests into the grounds. At my fair, we recognize many students who are candidates for these positions. Lucky for us, the selected “court” aren’t the only royalty present. In sports analogies, they say “you can’t win the game if you don’t go out and play”. This is also true for participation at the county fair. With over 40 candidates depending on the fair vying for royalty positions, we can’t forget that all of these youth are deserving. If they don’t win the position, it is OK. They participated. How do you often learn most? When you are disappointed or experience failure. These candidates are all learners and because they participated, they can take that experience into their future.

fair parade queen
My cousin Sara and I competed for fair queen for two
years each. I never was selected for court but Sara became
queen her second year running!

6. You can pet my goat, but only if you wash your hands.
Education and advocacy play a large role at county fairs. Buy a hamburger from the county beef producer’s stand. Talk to a student getting ready to show their animals. They will help educate and advocate for what they do and why they do it. It isn’t always about the rewards. Sometimes, they do it just for fun or to help educate you as a fairgoer.

boer goat at the fair
My sister Kelly and I in 2009 with one of her goats
waiting to show. Fairgoers will typically approach us to
pet the animal and in that moment, we get a chance to
educate them about livestock production.

7. At the end of the week, you have to say goodbye.
If it’s your first fair or your last, you know that once that auctioneer says “SOLD” or the final flag waves at the demolition derby, it is time to pack and up and head home. Many exhibitors face the “end of fair effects”. They don’t want to go home or say goodbye to their animals for the last time. However, realization to acknowledge your successes and improvements at the fair make these young people leaders.

junior fairboard
Logan and I served on Junior Fairboard together my last year (3 years ago). This
fair, he was not only crowned Fair King, but serves as a Junior Fairboard officer,
raises cattle and goats and is pursuing a college education and livestock judging this fall.
It is young people like Logan who are future leaders partially due to his fair experiences.

County fairs build young leaders in today’s society. You might not understand it now, but take a look around when you visit a county fair in the next few months or you may have already witnessed it. I challenge you to take a closer look. Ask questions to exhibitors. If you are an exhibitor yourself, be a leader and showcase these characteristics and more.

I also hope you will share your thoughts with others by commenting, sharing on social media or by contacting state associations and government officials. Let’s keep funding for fairs so we can have #FairFriday in the future.