Like many people, I used to have the same thoughts, "Oh it's just a county fair." However, this year was the first time in eleven years I stepped foot on to the Rock Island County Fairgrounds with out any animals or other 4-H projects to exhibit. Instead, I spent the week watching from an entirely new perspective that gave me a whole new appreciation for what I used to consider "just a county fair".
More and more, society has begun to question the relevance and value of a county fair when less than 2 percent of the population is actively involved in production agriculture. This question alone proves to me that county fairs are more important than ever. Fairs and livestock exhibitions are the foundation for agriculture promotion in our society and, as our population continues to shift to a more urban demographic, it is the responsibility of a county fair to remind the public of the key role that agriculture, and rural communities, will continue to play in our economy and daily lives.
Fairs not only promote agriculture, but also supply jobs; support rural economic development and local commerce; and provide opportunities for youth and adult education. The success of a fair is dependent on its volunteers and youth through programs like 4-H, whether they’re exhibiting livestock, crops and clothing or newer projects like film making. Speaking from my own personal experience, I am so thankful for the opportunity to show livestock at the fair.
My experiences aided in providing me with hands-on learning about the realities of food production as well as gaining major life skills such as communication and responsibility that molded me into a well functioning member of society.
Many years ago, a simple gathering for commodity trade began as a way to bring friends and neighbors together to showcase hard work and effort. These things still matter. Fairs are the connecting point of the people and products that showcase our heritage. I wholeheartedly believe in fairs and what they can do for a community and even the participants.
I encourage everyone to take time this summer to visit your local county or state fair. Take a stroll through the barns, strike up a conversation with a young exhibitor about his, or her, project. Watch the 4-H auction, maybe bid on an animal, and see how the hard work put in by the owner truly pays off. Experience a demolition derby, a concert, or play some carnival games with your family. Whether you are lifetime attendee or have never set foot on a fairgrounds, now is the best time to get involved in one of our countries oldest traditions- you will not regret it.