Last week I wrote about county extension offices and the myriad services they provide, including sponsoring many of the county fairs around the country. So, I thought it appropriate to visit the Shawnee County fair that was in progress here in Topeka, Kan.
A fellow staff member and I went to the fair grounds during lunch hour on Friday. We had in mind to partake of some good fair-type food after viewing the displays.
The Shawnee County fair is small by some fair standards. There were no carnival rides and only two food venues. But the energy and excitement of the participants made up for the lack of food choices and entertainment.
The main exhibit hall was a cacophony of crowing and clucking from the dozens of chickens being judged. As we watched, judges roamed up and down the aisles of caged poultry pinning blue, red and purple ribbons on the cages. The young 4-Hers were anxiously waiting outside of the judging area to see how their prized entry faired. Right next to the poultry exhibit were the rabbits – so many sizes, shapes and colors! It was quite warm in the exhibit hall and the exhibitors were busy directing fans onto cages and filling water dishes with fresh water. A few rabbits were having their coats groomed in anticipation of the upcoming judging.
On our way to the large animal exhibit barn, we strolled past photography displays, attractive dinner table settings and piles of vegetables fresh from the garden, many with prize winning ribbons attached. Many of the vegetable, canning and other food exhibits were entered by adults, in addition to the ones from 4-H members.
The livestock barn was chock full of the sounds and smells of cows, cattle, pigs, goats and sheep, many of whom were complaining loudly about being led around the show arena. The sheep were especially vociferous. Grade-school aged youngsters, dressed in their best western garb, struggled to keep their animals in line while trying to make it look as though they were pros at the fair scene.
The most engaging aspect of the animal showing was the participation of parents and other 4-H volunteers who were doing their best to assure that the kids succeeded at whatever their level of exhibiting. County fairs are about family and community: helping the younger generation to learn the self confidence and leadership skills they will need to be leaders in their own communities.
After seeing all of the exhibits, we stopped at the food court for a typical fair snack – ice cold lemonade and a funnel cake. Yes, we might have found a more nutritious lunch – but this is the fair and it only comes once a year.
Check out the county fairs in your area this summer and get a close-up view of time-honored farm life and country skills. You might even consider entering your own home-grown tomatoes, best pickles or strawberry jam.