By Abigail Martin
Mega corn dogs, long Ferris wheel rides, well-groomed champion steers and impressive style-review fashion shows — this is the best week of summer. The local county fair rolls around every year, somehow always during the hottest week of the season, and brings with it food, friends and fun.
As a child, and still to this day, I look forward each year to my home fair, the Rock County 4-H Fair in Wisconsin.
I attended my first county fair when I was 3 weeks old. Baby Abigail does not remember much from that trip, but something must have clicked. For 23 years since then, I have not missed one year of the Rock County 4-H Fair.
I grew up just 8 miles north of our fairgrounds on my family’s fourth-generation dairy farm. It is there where I fell in love with dairy cattle, and our agriculture industry. My passion only grew as I began to exhibit dairy cattle at the county fair each summer. I spent the weeks leading up to the fair washing, walking and practicing for the big day with my calves. When the big week finally arrived, we were ready.
No doubt, fair week is a family affair. I learned quickly that families, friends and volunteers make the fair go round. It takes dads to help fit the cows, moms to take photos and brothers to carry the “just-in-case” bucket and paper towels to make it to the showring. It takes friends to celebrate a purple banner, and friends to be there with a hug and a chocolate shake when your favorite pig turns out to be a pink ribbon. And of course, it takes countless volunteers to plan, execute and clean up after the fair festivities.
Volunteers truly are the backbone of local, county and district fairs. Throughout the year, members of the fair boards spend hours booking entertainment, contracting food vendors and brainstorming new activities to engage fair attendees. I can attest firsthand to the fair board members’ dedication, as my dad has served and mom is currently serving on the Rock County Fair Board. This has given me a unique behind-the-scenes look at the amount of time volunteers dedicate to planning a successful fair.
Making the fair great
No matter which end of the fair you visit, you will find a volunteer not far away. Project superintendents, 4-H club leaders and FFA chapter advisors can be seen supporting youth in all corners of the fair. I have many leaders and advisors to thank for my fair experiences. These special people spend their free time teaching youth how to sew, how to can pickles or how to wash a chicken. Yes, you have to wash your chicken before the fair! It involves a tub full of suds, a toothbrush and a little bit of patience.
Dedicated volunteers are an integral part of youth development at the fair. Their devotion sparks new passions, teaches patience and encourages teamwork among each other.
This summer, as you visit your local fair, be sure to look around. Somewhere close by is a person who volunteers time, knowledge or expertise to help the fair succeed. Church food stands, agriculture education tents and livestock barns are full of these dedicated volunteers. And thank goodness they are. Thanks to these volunteers, fair attendees can pet a sheep for the first time, and youth exhibitors like myself have the opportunity to gain lifelong skills and friendships, as well as lasting memories. This summer we celebrate them, and thank the hands and faces behind the best week of the year.
Martin is the 72nd Alice in Dairyland.