One of my favorite parts of summer as a child was fair time, specifically going to the Sheboygan County Fair at the end of August. It was a family outing every year. We’d do it all. Wandering through the barns, riding the rides, eating the best of the funnel cakes, ice cream, and the simple plethora of fair food. The best, to my memory was the building with the school exhibits. It was filled, floor to ceiling, with the works of school kids across Sheboygan county. If I was lucky, I might find a piece that I’d created.
Fair time was also a time for a bit of jealousy. Who could help but be jealous of the 4-H kids? Girl Scout camp was great, but these kids got to have horses and cows of their own and got to spend nearly a week going on rides, eating fair food, and hanging out with friends in the barns!
Years later I still love a good fair. Sadly, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Sheboygan County Fair, but these days I’ve become a visitor to Minnesota’s fairs. It started with my work at Toxic Taters. Each year I’d go to Becker, Wadena, Hubbard, East Otter Tail, and Perham. One year I made it to West Otter Tail too and another year it was Cass County.
My time being employed with Toxic Taters is over, but my love of fairs continues. Already this year, I’ve been back to Wadena and today I was off to Todd County. I’m hoping for at least three more this year.
It’s a joy to watch those 4-H kids. I never realized when I was busy being jealous of them for their freedom and fun as a kid, that the reality was that they were learning, developing a base for themselves to work from into the future. I suppose the same happened in Girl Scouts, but I was too busy having fun myself at the time to notice.
Each county brings something special to its celebration. Today in Todd county, I saw their strengths in showing cattle and doing the barrel runs with the horses. Last weekend’s highlight in Wadena was definitely the tractor pull. Becker county is strong in the midway offering lots of rides and games for the kids.
None of the fairs have quite energy that I remember from those days at Sheboygan county. Today, I actually saw a large list of disbanded 4-H groups in Todd county hanging on a wall. It made me a bit sad. I wonder if 4-H might rebuild as we, as a society, come to recognize our need for healthy foods, the necessity of working toward environmental and economic sustainability if we are to survive, and if there might come a day in which we truly recognize our need for community such as that which is offered through groups like 4-H and events like the fairs. Could we become that dream community again that I imagine from my childhood? What would it take? What does the fair, the 4-H of the future look like? How do we continue to provide that base of learning and that simple freedom and fun?
Meanwhile, I’ll just keep going to the fairs we have and having fun with the simple things from wandering among the animals to checking out the demo derby!