By Debra Durheim
With summer upon us, many families look forward to a chance to explore America with vacations, stops at local community festivals and the great tradition of county fairs. My family has a passion for fairs and we also have a very competitive nature. Nothing brings that trait to the surface more than the opportunity to enter a variety of projects or hobbies in contests at the local fair. As exhibitors we also have a responsibility to share what we have learned with the judges, our neighbors and the visiting public.
County fairs allow everyone the opportunity to showcase their talents and passion by exhibiting in a competitive, but friendly atmosphere. Exhibits are as varied as the county or state and its culture – from baking, clothing and pickling to art, engines and amazing technology – in addition to the skill and training required to show a variety of livestock species on the end of a lead rope or halter.
County fairs started as purely agriculturally based exhibits to determine who had the best livestock or crops. Since those early fairs, the tradition of improvement has been continued by dedicated volunteers who serve on fair boards and plan new events and attractions to keep the venue interesting to all ages. Over time, competitive events started to include youth, first through the 4-H program and later, FFA. Entertainment stages, horse races, tractor-pulling competitions, sheep shearing, home improvement booths and food stands where entrepreneurs engage with foodies offer something for everyone. All ages can truly enjoy the county fair.
My family has been actively involved at our county and state fair throughout the summer for more than three decades. Our children and grandchildren have competed in both 4-H and FFA youth shows and we have exhibited in open classes as adults. We’ve also served as judges and are actively involved as volunteers for the local agricultural society that governs our county fair. The passion and enthusiasm we share with other fair volunteers is truly gratifying.
The family tradition continues, as our children have all become 4-H adult leaders, with their children exhibiting at local county fairs as well as other competitive events. At the county fair, young people learn the rewards of putting in time and effort to showcase their passions, whether that is artistic skills or exhibiting livestock.
When each show day is done, we often visit with fair attendees and neighbors, sometimes meeting with elected leaders as they shake hands in a family atmosphere close to home. This type of fellowship, shared with community members of all ages and walks of life, is rare in today’s society but often found at a county fair.
In recognition of state and county fairs as annual events that families and communities anticipate with enthusiasm, the United States Post Office created a forever stamp (available starting Thursday, July 25). The USPS hits the mark by noting that “State and county fairs provide social and educational value with opportunities to learn, teach, socialize and have fun.”
So, what are you waiting for? Celebrate the fun of America’s state and county fairs with a forever stamp. And make plans to check out your county fair – the smiles on your neighbor’s faces as they welcome you at the gate, the 4-H member who clears your plate at the food stand and the dairy farmer who serves up real ice cream at the all-you-can-eat stand. Enjoy real Americana and the tradition of your county or state fair this year!
Debra Durheim is a Farm Bureau leader in Minnesota and serves on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Promotion & Education Committee. She and her husband, Delvin, have years of service on their county fair board and have co-chaired the Minnesota State Fair 4-H Herdsmanship Contest for the past 21 years.