The county fair season is in full swing and none too soon in a summer that’s had more weather downs than ups.

Fair season is when 4-H members’ hard work and determination cannot just be measured by the color of ribbons won.

The first known county fair was held in 1772 when Midwest prairies and forests were beyond the reach of farm families, their oxen and horses. The rapid westward expansion often outpaced knowledge about good agricultural production practices.

The early fairs were opportunities to display new seeding methods, equipment and technology. For example, the scouring moldboard plow caught on quickly because the machinery hopscotched fairs across the Midwest.

The best livestock were in demand from farmers who sought to improve their own herds. The government, which wanted to increase food production to feed an expanding population on the East Coast, sought to show farmers new methods and seeds.

Fairs have changed through the decades, but essentially remain true to their origins. 

Fairs reward the commitment 4-H and FFA members make to livestock, industrial arts and other projects. Young people are rewarded in the short term, but also lay the groundwork for future careers, be it in production agriculture or in agribusiness. The hours devoted to county fair projects are the foundation of the work ethics that are in great demand both inside and outside agriculture.

Purple ribbons may be the goal, but are not the real prize. Young people benefit from setting goals and meeting the challenges of a county fair project. 

Across Iowa and Minnesota, 4-H programs are strong and growing despite increasing time demands on the young. Urban 4-H members are getting involved as never before through innovative programming.

County fairs celebrate rural heritage at a time when some fear rural roots are being severed. Changing times have meant school and Main Street closings, and the loss of rural populations.

Fairs have changed with the times, but the spirit of the young people who take part in them remain the same. Chances are good that tomorrow’s leaders can be found keeping livestock barns clean and working in the 4-H and FFA food stands.

Reward yourself by spending time at your county fair. Walk through the livestock barns, visit the 4-H project area, and have a slice of pie topped with ice cream. You might consider purchasing a livestock ribbon at the auction held to raise money for the fair and to financially reward 4-H’ers.

The Iowa State Fair is Aug. 8-18 in Des Moines. The Minnesota State Fair follows Aug. 22 to Sept. 2. Both are excellent exhibitions of the dedicated and energetic young people living up to the American ideals of hard work, innovation and helping others.

The 4-H’ers who will be there will have an experience they’ll never forget. Each member deserves congratulations for their efforts. The communities in which they reside also benefit from their dedication.

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