From the Other Side of the 4H Fair

Reader Contribution by Cait Carpenter
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For thousands of youth across the country, summertime means more than no school, hot dogs and fireworks. Every year, 4-H and FFA members bring their carefully cultivated projects to the local county fair to display their hard work and dedication to the public. I remember not too long ago when I myself was diligently soliciting potential livestock auction buyers, encouraging them to visit our fair’s small animal sale and bid on my market goats. I remember the time and energy put into each and every project, and I see it still every year in the upcoming generations of 4-H and FFA members. Recently I aged out of 4-H, and joined the grown-ups on the other side of the show table, and I’m experiencing a very different side of fair.

County fairs are put on by groups of people that are almost exclusively volunteers – livestock committees, superintendents, board members, clerks, so on and so forth. For these adults, the fair is not once a year. These helpers work all year to provide a positive, memorable experience for all youth involved in the county fair events. They get phone calls at 11 at night during sign-up time from panicked parents, wondering what class their kid’s chicken should be entered under. They put on workshops about sheep showmanship, organize livestock judging practices, and I can’t tell you how much gas they use making trips to JoAnn’s Fabrics to pick up decorations for the 4-H booths. These people give and give and give to keep a worthy program alive. They do this for the kids.

Unfortunately, sometimes the fair doesn’t always go smoothly. Actually, let me rephrase that – the fair NEVER goes smoothly. Someone always gets upset, someone always argues, and someone’s parent ALWAYS screams at the volunteers. When I say screams, I mean SCREAMS. That’s not OK! When something goes wrong at the fair, if you as a parent (or a youth, for that matter) feel the urge to start hollering at a volunteer, step back and think, “Is this REALLY their fault? Should I be screaming at this person? Am I being a pain in the rear?”

If you missed your class, that’s not the volunteer’s fault. If your animal showed poorly, that is not the volunteer’s fault. If your animal is sick, that is NOT THE VOLUNTEER’S FAULT. Do the responsible thing and handle yourself. Or, even better, respect those in authority (like, say, the superintendents) and do what they ask. If your animals belong in a certain pen, put them in that pen. Keep them in that pen. If the clerk tells you that you missed your class, apologize and go back to the barn.

Volunteers are people too. It’s very disheartening to watch a superintendent be on the brink of tears for four days straight because of cruel, angry parents. Not only do these parents make it hard to find volunteers in the first place, but what are they teaching their kids? That screaming will get you what you want? Isn’t that what we try NOT to teach our kids? This applies not only to 4-H leaders, but all volunteers. Girl Scout leaders, middle school sports coaches, etc.

There are reasons for the rules. If you bring a sick animal to fair and it is rejected, take it home. It’s not personal, we just don’t want the sick animal to contaminate the other healthy animals at the show. How is that unfair? If you bring your chicken to show at the fair, wouldn’t you be upset if it went home with lice because the chicken next to it was crawling with them and no one sent it back? Then all of your chickens would be contaminated with lice, and all of the other chickens near the lousy bird at fair would have lice, and all those flocks, and on and on and on. There’d be lice everywhere. What if those lice happen to be transmissible between species? Then the public who visits the fair will walk through the lousy chicken barn, then walk through the sheep barn, then in the petting zoo, and track lice all over the place. If your chicken has lice, keep it at home, not just for you, but out of respect for everyone else at the fair. Of course, lice are just an example of the many things that can spread throughout fair, but you get the point. Rules are rules, there are so many, but there’s reasons for each one. Like lice.

So, long story short, be nice to the volunteers. If you’re walking around, telling everyone how much you hate us, why don’t you become a volunteer yourself? And remember, I’m a writer. I have a book in the making about growing up at the county fair. How do you want to be written?

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