Today we went to a county fair just south of our farm property. It was a perfect day for a county fair: overcast, breezy, and not too hot. We wandered through the back roads, searching for signs of the fair. All of the sudden, there it was, nestled amidst rolling farmland.
This being my first county fair, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. At first, it was pretty much just like the carnival that comes to my suburban town: fried food of all sorts – fried pickles, fried elephant ears, fried hot dogs on a stick, cheese on a stick, French fries and more – as well as the rickety fair rides that encourage the spewing of all the aforementioned fried foods.
But as we continued, it struck me that, no, this was not really like my suburban carnival. Folks were milling about going to and from different barns filled with animals large and small. It struck me that most were wearing high rubber boots. While some of us in the suburbs wear overpriced rubber boots to be darling and skip through the city puddles, these people - authentic farmers - were wearing those boots for real: they keep one’s feet clean and dry when shoveling shit out of a barn stall. Same thing with the cowboy boots. I usually only see cowboy boots on young people when I go to, say, a Zack Brown Band concert at Blossom Music Center. There, all sorts of sometimey cowgirls in cheeky Daisy Duke shorts and straw cowboy hats swill boozy concoctions that end up puked all down their cropped shirts by the end of the concert. These folks at the county fair are legit farmers, real cowgirls. And those boots are worn in, scuffed, and dirty with horse manure. They do a fine job keeping their wearer’s toes uncrushed by horses.
Wandering aimlessly through the fair, we wove in and out of various animal barns. First we moseyed into the rabbit barn where a dozen or so middle schoolers were prepping their rabbits to be judged. I have no idea what the judges were looking for; they all looked like fine rabbits to me. But the young people were earnestly cradling their animals with such pride and anticipation, it was moving. I was rooting for the grayish brown one because it looked like my pet rabbit from my youth, Brandy (named after that one-hit-wonder by the 70s band, Looking Glass). Poor Brandy bit it when I was about eight years old after she snuck into the garage one day and feasted on fertilizer. Brandy met a better end than my previous pet rabbit, Puff, a little black beauty. Puff went poof when I mistakenly left her out all night, tethered to her cage, and a raccoon – or something – decided to eat her for dinner. I don’t know the details of what happened to my first rabbit, Oreo, a black and white little number. But she, too, met an untimely, violent death.
So, I enjoyed my visit in the rabbit barn, but didn’t stay long, else I bring my bad rabbit luck with me.
On to the sheep and llama barn. There, too, were earnest young people dutifully washing and showering their sheep, combing their llamas, lovingly getting ready to show off the hard work they had put into raising their respective animals. It was a pretty chilly day and all the sheep had just been shorn, so they all were wearing little jackets, some with hoodies. They all lounged about as if they were in a spa, just lazing on the straw, waiting for their next treatment. I think one was reading The National Enquirer.
Our next stop was the poultry barn. No lazing there. Lots of clucking and fussing, feathers all ruffled. I was surprised by the variety of chickens there: black and white striped with shocking red heads, gray elegant plumage with just a splash of red atop the head. One was a beautiful russet color with amber highlights like a professionally done balayage from a salon (I think I had that color in the 90s). There were also many varieties of turkey there, including a few enormous, fluffy, white fellas that filled their cages such that their feathers spilled out from the tops and sides.
Walking down the midway, I noticed a chance to ride a mechanical bull. The first year after we acquired our farm property, we had a cookout for friends and family and a farm friend rented us a mechanical bull. “It’s different out here,” he nodded. As my daughter nervously giggled and sidled away from the thing, he followed her, insisting, “Get on the bull. Get on the bull, Jen,” though Jen is not her name. She didn’t do it then and I didn’t do it at the fair. It’s all fun and games until Mare can’t move her extremities.
We swept through the small animal barn, which featured a variety of goats that were all very restless, as goats generally are. They were all chewing on their stalls and trying to climb out. What is it with goats? They’re completely ADD.
After all those small animals, it was time for the big un’s: the heifers and milk cows. I’m kind of up on my cow watching these past five years, so I was impressed. These beasts were beuts. Each was impeccably washed, groomed, and spit-shined, like pieces of farm art. I wanted to take one home for the living room.
The most exciting visit was to the swine barn. These pigs were also huge. Again, many were just lying around, bored and looking very, very full. Some were so hefty that, lying on their sides, their rotund girths forced their legs to jut out straight in front of them, so that their hooves didn’t even touching the ground. That’s a lot of pig. At one point, several pigs were being showered and gussied up at the end of the alleyway of stalls. After their grooming, they were rushed down the path by their young owners, being herded with a little stick. One large fella broke free and was running rogue all through the barn. Startled and a little scared, I had to hop to the side to keep from being knocked over by that fat pig. I’m not sure where he was rushing to … maybe home again, home again, jiggity jig.
Next door to the hogs were the horses, and … Oh. My. Gosh. Those puppies were impressive. Enormous. Some had withers that were taller than I, and I’m pretty tall (please … don’t you know “withers” is the highest part of a horse's back, lying at the base of the neck above the shoulders? #farmvocab). A blue-ribbon winning draft horse was out front of the horse barn, gathering accolades and nose pets. She was massive, black and shiny, with delicate pink ribbons down her mane. Her owner, a young woman of about eighteen or so, beamed with pride.
And this is the thing. The young people I witnessed there at the fair were all participants in their local 4 –H clubs. It was impressive. I learned that the meaning of 4 H Club is “head, health, heart, hand” and their mission is "engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development." These young people are responsible for bringing an animal to adulthood in the best way possible: caring, nurturing, cleaning, grooming, and loving that animal. I assume most of those animals go to slaughter after the fair. Talk about a connection to your food. But hey, I’m an omnivore. I’m not judging or turning my nose up to anyone.
If you want a connection to where food comes from and the people who raise it, I really recommend checking out the next county fair nearby. It’s different out there.