The local county fair is always a highlight of summer for our family. Nestled in the outskirts of a small prairie town, folks meet up to support the local youth's efforts in 4-H, sit back for three nights of rodeo entertainment, brave the carnival rides, take in the mud drags, and enjoy the best of concession stand specials. The kids explore the fairgrounds with their old friends and make new friends along the way.
Behind all of this fun is a lot of work - mostly volunteer work. By the end of the fair, eyes are heavy after days of early mornings, late nights, and weather that can range from cold and rainy to blistering heat. But this work is fun.
Just ask the kids. You won't hear complaining about sweeping wood chips out of the livestock barn hallways to earn points in good herdsmanship during the week. They'll gladly do their chores, wash their animals, and groom them to perfection. You'll see them all working side by side with their families and their friends to showcase their accomplishments.
No matter the color of the ribbon, a livestock project is a source of pride for any exhibitor. My youngest two kids got in the ring for the first time ever this county fair with bucket calf projects. The lessons they learned are valuable and unique.
Just like the grownups, these kids have learned that this work can be so much fun.
In preparation for the fair, it's been fun to watch my boys feed bottles to their calves every morning the past few months. Rain or shine, the animals need to be fed every morning - and this isn't a chore that can be procrastinated for later. It's been fun to watch them learn that as their calves grew up, they added hay, and then creep feed to the diet.
It's been fun to watch them learn to observe their calves for good health. "Hey, Dad, my calf has an ear down." They learned about taking a temperature, talking to a veterinarian, and giving medicine to restore a sick animal to good health. My nine year old even had to pass a test on quality assurance to demonstrate that he understands the best practices in livestock care.
It's been fun to watch youth and parents in our 4-H club teach my kids the ropes in the show ring. The time that others invested in my kids and their projects to help them is a testament to the strong values, sense of community, and work ethic that still exists in rural America.
Most of all, it's been fun to see how my kids simply enjoy spending time with cattle. This time spent will help them be skilled at raising a healthy productive herd of their own someday, if they so choose. Farmers and ranchers love what they do, and many times, it's a love that is cultivated at a young age.
Ribbons of accomplishment always bring a smile, but its more than the minutes in the ring. It's the interaction between a kid and his or her animal, the bond between friends and families, and pride in knowing that the hours of effort spent in reaching a goal was well worth the time.
I have no doubt that my kids will have many great memories of the county fair. I also have no doubt that they'll look back and realize that along with the fun, there was a foundation of work ethic and pride that will lead to success in many other arenas in life.
These lessons taught to our 4-H youth make more than memories, they make kids who will grow up to make a difference in life. And someday, they'll raise the next generation who will learn about work and fun at the county fair.