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It’s county fair season in Arkansas! One of our highlights each fall is attending the fair with my son and walking around the education building. Then, we go through all of the livestock and watch a show in the arena. He likes to look at the animals and read their names. We usually have a few giggles for the pig named Bubblegum, a goat named Freckles or the cow named Luigi.
While I grew up in the city and am not much of a country girl, my son’s eyes light up when he looks at those farm animals and observes the children walking around caring for and showing their animals. He closely looks at the pottery and paintings, and I can tell his wheels are turning and thinking, “Could I be doing this?”
He started kindergarten this fall, and I know it’s time to start thinking about joining a 4-H Club, but that all looks pretty foreign to me, and I’m not ready to commit to raising an animal. So, I sat down recently with the team over the Washington County Fair and asked a few questions to help us get started. I learned their process is similar to most Arkansas counties, where a fair board plans the events and the exhibit opportunities for the fair each year. They work closely with the county extension office and 4-H Club leaders to share information and educate the public.
The concept of a county fair dates to 1807, when a Massachusetts farmer hosted a sheep shearing competition and educational seminar to build better and more consistent farming practices in the area. As the local fair in MA grew, word spread and its popularity grew nationwide throughout the mid-1800s.
Like our local county fairs, baking contests, arena animal shows, food vendors, lectures and exhibits drew spectators and gave the agriculture industry a more comprehensive exposure range. As Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show drew attraction across the country, a carnival atmosphere became synonymous with the experience to draw crowds and spectators. Volunteers and a fair board produce a week (or two) of fun for their local community, focusing on the agricultural industry and farming, with opportunities for a new generation to continue the cycle.
Local county fair opportunities fall into three main categories for junior divisions
If you are like me and just trying to figure out where to get started, let me encourage you to connect with your local Extension Agent. While each of these agents is not immediately in charge of a local county fair, they aim to educate the next generation and perpetuate agriculture throughout the state.
4-H clubs and National FFA Organization (FFA) programs in schools are the primary ways the extension offices work on youth engagement and development. With a grounding belief that children learn best by doing, the 4-H programs focus on four areas – head, heart, health and hands. Opportunities through these programs intentionally develop leadership skills in youth and improve opportunities for them to exercise them in their communities.
If you are interested in being involved in your local county fair or learning more about a 4-H program in your community, it’s still possible to start, even if it’s already fair week!
Participation in the fair increases awareness in youth about caring for others and develops leadership and business skills. Most children who grew up participating in the fair will tell you they learned many things that helped them in college, trade school or improving their family businesses. Make this the year!
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