Every summer the same question was front and center in mine (and my mom’s) mind. What projects will I make for the fair this time?
Many families’ summer plans revolved around vacations, camping or other activities, but ours was planned around 4-H events and, of course, the county fair.
Showing everything possible
In my 11 years as a 4-H’er, I completed a lot of off-the-wall projects. These ranged anywhere from making hypertufa garden pots to reupholstering a chair to hauling animals of various types to the fairgrounds. With those random projects, I always did a few standards at every fair — livestock interview judging, variations of pound cake, a quilt of some kind and an assortment of photos.
On more than one summer, I spent the ride into town hand-sewing the binding on my quilts, or trying to attach exhibit tags onto finished projects. I could never complete just a few projects, and I would bring laundry baskets full of exhibits, and set up a shop in the corner of the 4-H building with my stacks. One year I brought over 35 exhibits to be judged, not including all of my chickens.
I’m so grateful for my Extension agent growing up, who always met us at the building doors ready to collect all of my “dropped” exhibit tags I hadn’t been able to complete, and listened while I explained my most ridiculous project of the year to her.
God bless my poor parents for all of their time spent working with me on my “time management” to finish the projects I convinced them to let me do, and for hauling me, projects and animals to the fair each year. My parents also were 4-H volunteer leaders, and my mom would always help with setting up the fair building and registration for members, while my dad helped me unload projects and then work the pie and ice cream booth.
Exhibit judging in 4-H is much like an interview. Sitting across from the judge in a project area, the 4-H’er walks through how they completed the project and answers questions. The judge then assigns a white, red or blue ribbon. This process helps 4-H youth come out of their shell, and work on social and interview skills with the adult volunteer.
The limit in Grand Forks County, N.D., was three items per project area, and I often hit that limit. This meant I would sit with the judges for much longer than they were probably ready for. I only ever wanted to get the blue ribbons, which meant an excellent job, but sometimes there were judges each year who would catch a mistake I made, and I’d get the red or even white ribbon the project deserved.
One of these times was with food preservation. The Family Wellness Extension agent for seven to 10 years would give me a white or red ribbon. This was often due to filling out the label incorrectly, forgetting the recipe card, or having a flawed jelly. My last year I finally got it together and had everything filled in, had the recipe and had produced a flawless orange marmalade. That blue ribbon and grand champion meant more than any other I received, because I had gotten those perfect marks from Donna.
Less than ideal
Some of my best memories came from my last fair. That year was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. As still being 18 in 4-H, I was able to show. My best friend who grew up in 4-H with me also fit into this age range, and we had planned an assortment of exhibits to show and things we wanted to do.
This was the year that the Midwest was hit with a pullorum-typhoid outbreak, and no poultry exhibition was allowed at fairs. Because of this, my dad had let me get two pigs to have another animal to show. We moved pigs and horses in on the same evening, and then left them in their stalls for the night.
Something went wrong the night before the horse show, and my horse, Cisco, ended up with a bruised hoof sole, unable to be ridden. I was extremely disappointed but wanted what was best for my horse, so I showed him only in halter showmanship the next day. We got a blue ribbon in our last class ever, and Cisco went back to relax in his stall.
Later that same day, my best friend, Kendall, was warming up for her hunter-over-fences pattern and had an accident that landed her in the emergency room with a broken tailbone. She returned to the fairgrounds determined to finish out showing her final year, but ultimately had to drop out due to the extent of her injury.
I had a horse that was unable to be ridden, and she was unable to ride her perfectly sound horse. We were both extremely disappointed by this, but still enjoyed our final fair with our friends, and showing our other exhibits. Kendall still managed to hobble around the show ring the next day helping me show my market pigs, despite her injury. I was able to earn champion hog showman and overall livestock showman with my pigs that year.
Looking back, each and every fair had some type of unanticipated excitement ranging from chickens on the loose, a tornado, or even an injury that changed our plans. My excitement for the fair has never changed, and even as a state ambassador, Extension agent and now volunteer, I look forward to being at the 4-H fair.