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College Farmer: County fair projects offer life lessons for exhibitors and interaction with consumers.

May 21, 2020

3 Min Read
A young girl petting a chicken
EARLY LESSONS: County fairs offer young 4-H members a chance to try their hand at exhibiting animals. Through the poultry project, they can raise meat birds or breeding stock.Mindy Ward

If you close your eyes and picture a county fair in your mind, I'll bet you can see it so well that you can feel the heat from the summer sun, hear the cattle fans blowing and smell the fresh wood shavings in the barns.

Fairs provide an opportunity for all generations to connect over new equipment being showcased or to marvel at the creative and intricate designs sewn into the blue-ribbon quilt. The fair is a place to meet with friends to talk about old memories while you’re also making new ones. I mean, who doesn’t love summer nights, parades and corn dogs?

Local county fairs offer youth an opportunity to learn more about the different aspects of agriculture and build on character traits.

Hands-on learning at fair

I’ve always loved competition. Competition forces you to find your physical and mental limits, then pushes you past them. County fairs provide youth who want to be involved in agriculture that competition. For me, it was in the swine barn.

As a kid, having my own fair animal seemed like a big project: feeding, watering, cleaning and replacing bedding, walking, and washing it daily. Being put in charge of the care of a living animal at a young age made me think about a project for longer than a week; caring for a 4-H or FFA livestock show animal lasts for months.

This type of project educates youth on what happens on the farm on a weekly, monthly or even yearly basis. Young people learn that they are taking care of an animal for the purpose of selling it. It offers farm finance skills through money management and tracking costs wrapped up in feed and other areas.

A fair project teaches responsibility, but it also helps young people connect with livestock, each other, the nonfarm public and perhaps their future.

Education through fair gates

When working with an animal, you learn how to be a team. During the fair, exhibitors become better friends. And interacting with fairgoers unfamiliar with agriculture offers them an opportunity to learn more about raising livestock, and learn more about you as a young farmer.

A county fair’s purpose is to educate and plant seeds of interest in those who exhibit and attend. By cultivating that interest and teaching about ag through a hands-on approach, the agriculture industry can benefit by growth in the next generation.

County fairs are great doorways for youth to further or a find a passion for agriculture and spark interest for a career in ag. Even kids who don’t pursue a career in agriculture have learned about caring for livestock and things such as what they get fed. By doing so, many gaps in understanding farm practices can be bridged, providing more opportunities for progress.

Looking beyond the opportunities county fairs and other exhibitions create, we find that they provide a platform for different aspects of culture to be preserved and appreciated.

Robinson is a senior majoring in science and agricultural journalism at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Contact him at [email protected].

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