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County fair livestock show is great proving ground for kids

Two weeks ago, an old friend sent me a photo of us together at the county fair in 1983. I had just graduated from high school and she was going into her senior year.

That one simple black-and-white photo ushered in a flood of memories from my childhood at the county fair that took place in what seemed to always be the hottest part of the summer – mid-July.

Camps, tournaments, baseball, softball, swimming lessons, conventions and family vacations are all great ways to spend a week or two in the summer, but is there anything that can compare to the experience of exhibiting at a county fair? No.

Here are my top eight reasons why all youth should join 4-H and show livestock at the county fair.

•Friends. Friends and more friends. There is nothing like knowing and networking with the people who exhibit livestock. Even if you find yourself competing on a national level as an older teenager, you likely got your start at the county fair, a safe place where losing wasn’t nearly as bad or embarrassing.

•Competition. There is nothing that will make you better and provide more motivation to improve like competition. Without it, we are mediocre at best. Competition not only improves our game, it fuels ingenuity like nothing else.

•Independence. When parents step back and let children do the work, they will either flourish or fail. If they flourish, you have set them up to continue to try at other things and achieve success. If they fail, you have set them up to know how to rebound from failure and learn it was just a detour to success.

Either way, if they are able to do it on their own, they will learn that they can earn something all by themselves.

•Cooperation. Is there any better feeling of belonging than working with others on a team? The workload is huge when you exhibit livestock at the county fair, but many hands make light work and this is where kids can learn cooperation, when given the chance.

•Purpose in life and death. In a world where we now want dogs to be our best man at a wedding, it is imperative that young people learn there is purpose in every living thing, and death is sometimes the end result of the purpose. This is black and white. Let’s not blur this for our kids.

•Dirt is fun. I know no pile of laundry any dirtier than the pile that comes in from the trailer or camper at the end of a county fair. Manure, dirt, shavings, steer hair, cow slobber, caramel corn, pig manure, black magic, adhesive and pop stains are proving grounds for laundry detergent and washing machines.

And, this mess proves that there was a bunch of fun that happened by the kids who wore those stained clothes.

•Exhaustion. Being tired at the end of a long day of washing, clipping, training, showing and competing is a good thing. It means we tried hard. It means we had purpose. It means we were driven to accomplish something.

•Winning and losing. As long as there is a first and a last and several places in between, we have taught our children that evaluating something on its merit is real life.

Being able to win and lose graciously takes humility, and that leads to good character. And isn’t that what we want to develop in our greatest natural resource?

As we gear up for whatever your kids are doing this summer, I just want to give one piece of advice to the parents out there: From one imperfect parent to another, get out of the way and let your children win, lose and grow.


The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Melissa Hart may write to her in care of this publication.