I’m reminded almost daily that I’m blessed to have grown up on a Nebraska farm. That feeling is stronger during county fair and crop growing season. I knew I had a wonderful childhood at the time, but I didn’t know it was special until I was older. There were more family farms in the mid-1950s to mid-1970s, but farm and ranch kids still were a small percentage of all U.S. children.
Many types of childhood experiences provide foundations for talented, hard-working, successful, kind-hearted adults. A big difference on farms and ranches is that one or both parents, older kids and often grandparents work together at home every day.
The Buffalo County Fair, which concluded Tuesday, was a strong reminder of that lifestyle. I’m sure other fairgoers who have lived their adult lives in cities joined me in feeling nostalgia for our farm kid experiences.
The 4-H shows and exhibits are stars at all county fairs.
On static exhibit entry night at the Buffalo County Fair, I watched the Exhibit Building fill with clothing, food, home decor, photography, woodworking, Lego, family heritage books and other things. Clover Kids — children too young to be full 4-H members, but with their own fair events — caught my eye because they were so excited to enter their projects.
Smaller animal shows for dogs, pets, poultry and rabbits featured 4-Hers of all ages. They allow kids who don’t live on farms and/or don’t have facilities for large livestock to also learn about, care for and show animals.
Most Nebraska fairs have big shows for core farm and ranch animals: horses, cattle, swine and sheep.
In a week with several incidents of extremely bad behavior by professional athletes, I saw many examples of great sportsmanship by 4-H competitors at Buffalo County Fair events. Friendships and respect within 4-H clubs also extend to other competitors who have livestock in neighboring stalls or pens and exhibit animals in the same show ring.
It was great to see many kids talking and playing cards in corners of the Ag Pavilion, and far fewer who looked at their phones for more than a few minutes at a time.
I knew that every morning before I came to the fairgrounds and every night after I left, 4-H members and their families were feeding, watering and grooming their animals.
During the years, I’ve seen 4-Hers mature from rookies to seasoned exhibitors and then transition to leaders, Extension educators, high school ag teachers-FFA advisers and 4-H parents who help their children wash pigs, water dairy calves, trim sheep and goats, and blow dry market beef.
There are shy 4-H kids, but most are confident. They look me in the eye and talk in complete, thoughtful sentences when I interview them.
They are emotionally honest. Most first-year 4-H exhibitors show a mix of fear and excitement. Those a decade older who are aging out of the program often talk emotionally about being at their final fairs as 4-H members.
One of my favorite 2019 Buffalo County Fair moments was Sunday morning. A mom sat on a bench outside the poultry barn with her son and his chicken. The boy was practicing his junior showmanship presentation minutes before he had to stand in front of a judge at his first 4-H Poultry Show as a 4-H member.
I didn’t watch him do that. However, I hope it boosted his confidence and that when he faces future first-time challenges, he’ll look back on that fair moment and believe he can do those things, too.
Lori Potter is a Hub staff writer.