INOURBACKYARD: County fair season is upon us

As I begin this month’s article, I ask you to think about a county fair you may have attended in past years. Perhaps you think about the carnival rides, the delicious fair food, or the lively outdoor concerts that are a highlight of our short North Dakota summers. For many readers, you might be like me and think of the young exhibitors showing their prized animals, best-baked goods, creative arts and crafts, award-winning plants, or even innovative engineering projects, all in hopes of earning a few dollars and possibly a shot at the State Fair.

Growing up as the daughter of a farmer and the niece/granddaughter of a cattle rancher, we didn’t have cable TV to entertain us (I’m dating myself, but this was pre-digital age). Instead, we had daily chores. Animals needed tending, work needed to be done around the farm and meals needed to be made and brought out to the field. You’d be hard-pressed to find a “farm” kid who wasn’t also an active member of the local 4-H chapter. I was no exception.

4-H taught us more than just how to raise animals or craft a perfect project. It instilled values of responsibility, perseverance, and teamwork. We learned to set goals, work hard, and celebrate our achievements. The friendships we forged at the county fair were special – a bond shared through common experiences and a mutual love for country life.

Throughout the year, our chapter, the Pickering Boosters, would meet monthly to work on projects and prepare for competitions under the steady leadership of some truly amazing adult leaders. All our meetings culminated in a couple of major events – the local county fair and, with any luck, the State Fair.

I vividly remember the hours spent putting together projects and fondly recall baking days with my now-departed grandmother, creating picture-perfect baked goods and hoping they would tickle the judges’ taste buds enough for the coveted Purple Grand Champion ribbon. For my cousins, hours were spent hauling animals into the fairgrounds and grooming them, with all the family members pitching in to lighten the load.

On fair days, we donned our best jeans and 4-H shirts and headed to the fairgrounds. The atmosphere was electric, a blend of excitement and nervous energy. The barns were bustling with kids and their animals, all vying for that top prize. The exhibition halls were filled with the year’s best creations. We chatted with friends, shared tips, and cheered each other on.

The show ring was the heart of the fair. We paraded our animals before the judges, hoping our hard work would pay off. Whether it was cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, or the family dog, we took pride in our livestock, knowing the countless hours of feeding, grooming, and training we had invested. The thrill of hearing our names called was indescribable – a mix of relief, pride, and nervous joy.

But the fair was about more than just competition. It was a time for camaraderie and fun. We explored the fairgrounds, indulged in cotton candy and mini donuts, rode the Ferris wheel until we were dizzy, and laughed with old and new friends. Looking back, those summers at the county fair were some of the best times of our lives. They were a reminder of the simple joys of rural living and the enduring spirit of 4-H. The lessons learned and the memories made will always hold a special place in our hearts.

So, here’s to the country kids, the 4-H members, and the county fairs that shaped us. May the traditions continue, and may future generations experience the magic of growing up country.


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