The true meaning of the fair
By Alex Battitori, Hometown Girard Newspaper
It’s that time of year again.
We’ve left behind the school graduations of May and the raging summer storms of June. The fireworks of the Fourth of July have long since fizzled out. We’re left now with clear blue skies and grass wilting under a sticky summer heat that only the Kansas countryside can conjure up. It’s time for summer to give one final hurrah before the schools open their doors again, the boats return from the lakes, and autumn begins to bleed into the countryside.
That’s right—it’s Fair time.
For some people, that means catching up with old friends, walking the kids through the animal barns or chowing down on cotton candy or the 4-H members’ specially made ice cream. Others come to cheer for the barrel racers or the roar of Derby engines under the arena lights.
There’s one more group of people, though, that come to the Fair not just to enjoy a week in the simmering heat, but because it’s time for them to put on display the projects they have developed over the past weeks and months.
“The process of getting ready for the Fair is what teaches 4-H’ers responsibility and other life skills,” 4-H Youth Development Agent Katie Rohling said. “Some fair projects can take from a few months to all year to get ready.”
There are a-thousand-and-one projects for 4-H’ers and Open Classers to put their minds to, each of which takes a special sort of preparation and dedication. Parents and community volunteers are an essential part of this, from helping gather woodworking supplies to buying livestock. While they may help with the start-ups for the project, however, it is the 4-Her and Open Classer that carry the sole responsibility of completing their craft by the end-of-July deadline. That’s where the life skills are truly learned.
“4-H’ers must have the drive to work on their projects every day! They are solely responsible for feeding, training, and fitting their animal; working on their craft and practicing to learn the best method of constructing it; and overall presenting their project in the best way possible.”
Not only do these projects keep those who work on them busy for the duration of the summer, but by becoming involved in an organization such as 4-H they also help to build and strengthen community relationships—one of the Fair’s central goals.
“The ability for these kids to come to the fair heightens their sense of community,” Rohling said. “They get to see how much the community is involved in the Fair and how much time volunteers devote to it. This makes them appreciate their roots. These 4-H kids will become the parents and volunteers that the 4-H organization needs to survive and function. A common sight you’ll see at the Fair is a 4-Her without animals pushing wheelbarrows. They aren’t competing, but merely helping a friend.”
This ability to recognize and appreciate their roots is an important one. The Fair itself has been passed down through the generations, shared between families who have been attending, competing and volunteering at the Fair all their lives. While some may come for the funnel cakes or social element, it’s really the projects of these 4-H’ers and Open Classers that keep the Fair going and the crowds coming.
“The center of the Fair is the kids that work hard on their exhibits all year. The community comes to support the kids and then in the evening everyone gets to celebrate with a funnel cake or by attending a concert. It’s a great way for 4-H’ers to get involved in projects that will benefit them for the rest of the life. For example, a 4-H’er involved in beef cattle may use their 4-H animal to start a small herd. This herd will gradually build, providing 4-H’ers with a start after school or is a way of paying for school. 4-H is providing them with skills that will benefit them for life!”
And so the cycle continues. Each new generation passes these skills, these life lessons and passions, onto the next. As summer settles in and a lazy heat blankets the countryside, you can be sure to see these individuals are hard at work continuing the traditions that have stood since the county’s first Fair back in 1867.
So to all of you Fair lovers—those who come for the rodeo, the Derby, the rides, the homemade ice cream; those who come with their hogs, their pies, their crafts; those who haul their camper out to the fields to spend a week under the stars, get ready.
It’s that time of year again.