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The Magic of an Iowa County Fair is as Strong as Ever

The following article was published in the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman's Editorial Section on July 28, 2010. It was written by Rita Cook, an intern with the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers. It is a strong tribute to the impact 4-H and county fairs have on youth and their development of key life skills such as public speaking, creating and achieving goals, coping with the disappointment and being humble with accomplishment.

The Magic of an Iowa County Fair is as Strong as Ever

Cowboy singer Chris LeDoux said it best: “Well, there’s a full moon in the western sky, and there’s magic in the air. Ain’t nothin’ I know of, can make you fall in love, like a night at the county fair.”
Kids and their parents from all over the nation congregate to exhibit their 4-H and FFA projects at county fairs. Those of you who have attended a county fair before have probably felt “the magic.” For those of you that haven’t, allow me to paint you a picture.
More than 30 years ago, two kids felt that magic at the Hardin County Fair in central Iowa, and a few short days after the fair, went on their first date.

A Family Affair
This spring, my parents, Jeff and Val Cook, celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary. All four of their kids were at the 2010 Hardin County Fair—along with 18 head of cattle and a horse.

And the county fair magic didn’t stop there—three of those four hoodlums felt it this year. Becky just finished her sophomore year in high school, and her boy­friend came to the fair to supervise while she washed her calf.
Kyle, who just finished his freshman year in high school, has a girlfriend who not only came to watch him show his calves, but happily volunteered to help clip and groom.
The youngest, Vince just com­pleted 7th grade and one girl asked him out five or six times in four days. He shrugs his shoulders and embarrassedly giggles when you ask him about the love letters that appeared in the showbox.
As for me, I’m a senior at Iowa State University; I came back to help my siblings and reminisce about my fair days. Although there was no whirl­wind romance for me, the second kind of county fair magic was as
strong as ever.

Every time I visit the Hardin County fairgrounds, I can’t help but take a walk down memory lane.

Growing Up At the Fair
When I joined 4-H, I was a shy, timid and socially-awkward 9-year-old. During my nine-year 4-H stint, I showed hogs, cattle, horses and my dog. In the mean­time, I learned to enjoy public speaking, how to keep financial records, manage money and create and achieve goals.

I learned the importance of not only dreaming big, but also creat­ing an action plan to make those dreams come true. I discovered how to stand up for myself and what I believe in.
At the county fair, I learned how to handle nerves, as well as how to balance responsibility and a social life, as I spent time with friends and also tended animals that depended on me for food and water. Those memories will always be vivid in my mind… the countless hours preparing, the heartbreak of losing and the joy of winning. But learning to win and lose graciously is another lesson learned. And that is the second kind of magic—learning, growing and becoming more than you ever thought you could be.

The 2010 Edition
Youth of all ages learned price­less life lessons at the 2010 Hardin County Fair.
Truthfully, even a veteran like me was challenged and learned new things. I was asked (or maybe instructed) to help announce the market beef show. I admittedly was slightly hesitant to take over the mike, hoping I could sound as professional and encouraging as my predecessor. A crash course in announcing and four hours later, I set the mike down with a tired smile on my face and sore throat.

If you go to a county fair, you won’t find limousines, red car­pet or white table cloths. But yet county fairs are a celebration—a cultural gala of a lifestyle that is underappreciated and criticized by people who do not have the slight­est understanding of it.

A Celebration of Youth
Although the words “county fair” may seem redneck or uncouth to some, it is truly a celebration of the youth who are learning to take over the reins—the reins that con­trol food, fiber and fuel production in this great nation.

I am thankful that my parents chose to raise my siblings and myself on a farm, and for encour­aging and pushing us to participate in 4-H and FFA. Although I don’t know how the cards will fall, I would give anything to return to Hardin County.
When or if I have a family, I hope to be able to raise them on a farm—that is how much influ­ence the farming community, its people and culture have touched my heart.
I will graduate from Iowa State this fall with a triple-major and GPA of 3.78, and the desire of my heart is to go back to a farm—but life is never quite that easy.
Fortunately, my 4-H and FFA experiences taught me to be inde­pendent and set a goal, work hard, work smart and keep my chin up. and who knows, maybe next year that first type of county fair magic will catch up with me. After all, it seems to have worked out for my parents.


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