“These kids are dedicated and smart. If these kids grow up and take over … America is going to be alright!” said Frederick Harris, a man who understands community and the importance of community first hand.
Harris, who is doing incredible work with the community garden projects in Oil City, talked to me Friday afternoon about how impressed he was with the young 4-Hers he met at the fair. He gave as an example a nine-year-old kid who talked to him like an adult about the pigs he was raising. Harris’s perspective was one I heard often during the week.
Our paper ran an online poll asking people how often they are planning to attend the Venango County 4-H Fair. The results were predictable. More people responded they weren’t interested in the fair than responded favorably. People love to put things down, to be negative, to act the curmudgeon much more than they like to up-lift and praise. Especially when its faceless and anonymous.
Those who participate in the fair, Are The Fair. They go, they work, they learn, they live the fair. My guess is they didn’t answer the poll.
Of the 493 people who answered the poll, 343 said they weren’t planning on attending. We have a combined circulation of roughly 28,000 papers and an additional 2,300 online subscribers.
I was at the fair almost everyday and I know for certain that more than 493 people were there each day and many I saw more than once. According to the fair board president Brad Deeter, there were several days they sold more than 1,000 daily wrist bands and he said that doesn’t take into account the weekly passes.
This is a 4-H agriculture-based fair and it attracts Ag families from a several mile radius. The fairgrounds are not huge and the fair board isn’t attempting to be a mega-fair.
It is family!
Our editor published a column in last Friday’s paper about the poll. You can read his column here!
I applaud my editor for calling out the people who don’t take advantage of what is offered to them right here in the community. And for pretty cheap.
I’m not sure what we were trying to gain from such a poll. Perhaps some perspective of what kind of support the community has for the fair? There certainly were a lot more people attending the fair each day than the number of people who took the poll and indicated they were going to attend. Participation among 4-Hers appears to be on the rise as evidenced by the numbers of goats and pigs alone. So …
I thought I’d take a few moments and share some photographs I made this week trying to find the heart of the community within this fair. I also want to give some observations from the perspective of someone who has to attend everyday. I have covered the Crawford County Fair and several other smaller community fairs around NW Pa. for 20 years now. And have spent several hours day after day, year after year at these fairs.
The Venango County Fair is its own unique thing and comparing it to others, though inevitable, is just not fair. It’s only $6 per person with kids under 8 getting in free.
Maybe, we just need to look at what it really is.
It’s our neighbors, it’s our friends, it’s our family. And they all get together for a week to live and love and learn from each other.
Maybe we should try to get in on that instead of wanting it to be something its not.
Maybe by doing so we can grow. Maybe by doing so we can get closer as a community and understand we all have each others back.
The man above smoking a pipe above named James Runniger said he has been helping out as a fire policeman for over 40 years. He spends several hours at the fair, in the hot sun directing people towards orderly parking.
“I’ve stepped over the line from dedication to stupidity,” he said, referring to not being a spring chicken any longer.
I look at him and think, 40 years serving the community – now that’s impressive. I looked at his compadres also helping to park cars and they are not young men either.
But, they are our neighbors. And they are doing their part for the community in hopes of making it a better place to live.
I watched Mrs. Keverline Hula Hoop. She said she entered contests when she was a kid. Having recently celebrated a birthday, she was surprised she was still able to do it in her 60s. There she was playing with the kids at the fair. Her husband is on the fair board. They are our neighbors.
I talked with Bridgette Graham who told me about her daughter, Ella, who, leading up to the fair, heard some kids in an Oil City neighborhood group say they had never seen a real cow or a pig.
Graham arranged to have these kids attend the fair for free and take them on a tour of the animal barns.
She said, “It’s a really good example of how these 4-H kids are, I had [4-H kids] lined up to teach about their animals to these kids who don’t know much about them.”
And when some of those kids ended up being busy with showing their animals to judges, others stepped in, without even being asked, to tell about their animal. Graham was hugely impressed with how the 4-H kids just gave and gave and gave.
I heard over the loud speaker in the Kiwanis Bowl, where all the horse shows take place, the announcers voice calling for all the junior riders to come back into the ring because ‘Clint” wanted to talk to them and show them a few things to get better for the next show. The announcer asked the crowd for patience because this is a teaching moment and important. A teaching moment … and important.
I then watched a father lead his little girl around the same course he had ridden many, many times as he, himself, was growing up. It was now all about his daughter.
Famil… generations… teaching… growing.
I watched ribbons being handed out, first-place ribbon winners, second-place ribbon winners, third and so on – all participants acknowledging and thanking the judges for their work and advice. Showing respect by taking the time to shake the judge’s hand and thank them for, not just awarding the ribbon, but for being there to judge.
Respect shown, respect given.
I took note of a typical fair style commercial looking food vendor with a small line of people, but the fire department line was twice as long and the tables out front had two or three different families sharing it. The community fire departments use these fairs as a main fundraiser for much needed money so they can help serve and protect the community better all year round. A good burger, some fries maybe and conversations with their neighbors and friends while helping the local volunteer departments out. Which helps themselves out. Win win!
Local businesses can show what they have to offer and many have stuff to give away or discounts to offer just by stopping by and saying “hello.” You can chat face to face with political party representatives, as well as the local and state politicians – especially at the livestock auctions where many come to support with their checkbooks.
You can stop and talk to anyone and learn something new with almost every step. And, by the way – the livestock auctions … these are teachable moments for the kids and public as well. These animals cost thousands of dollars to raise and the kids get the money for their efforts, but they have to pay back what they spent in raising the animal. Not to mention, having a better understanding that all food costs in time, labor and, in some cases, heartache.
You get to see young people focused, engaged and part of the learning process of life. You get to support your neighbors. You can see what makes an award-winning beet or that people still can vegetables (though the numbers have dropped considerably in that arena.) You can see quilts, wonderful photographs and art, pet a horses nose, do a funny dance when you realize you’re about to step in some cow poop, people watch and even watch people bring their trucks in to try to pull a heavy sled a little further than the other guy…or gal.
This year, the fair had many free things for kids such as the bouncy houses, face painting, it’s always free to pet a cow or pig and there were educational opportunities everyday.
The board seemed to focus on having more activities for children to keep them moving and engaged … Fun and also educational moments. And, most included in the price of admission, which meant free for the kids under 8.
The Erie Zoo came down to teach about other animals and allow children and adults to see critters they wouldn’t ordinarily get to see up close. And touch a snake and a lizzard looking thing called a skink.
I am always impressed with the families who work the fair and show their animals. If you engage them in conversation, show your curiosity about their work and their kids and animals, they will tell you all about their lives and raising the animals. And do it genuinely, with a smile likely while showing their dedication and own curiosity toward you.
And the care they give their animals.
I met a dude concentrating on his peach-flavored snow cone while trying to get a little peace and quiet after working hard all day with his animals. A chance to have a quiet break with a snow cone, or free ice cream from the dairy princess and her maids, or some BBQ sounded pretty awesome to me. A break from the grind.
For me, who admittedly is more of a loner artist type who probably wouldn’t get out much if it weren’t for my work, the fair is loaded with interesting moments that, if observed, help understand that the crazy in the world is really just a small part of the world. That there is more good … sooooo much more good than there is bad. And if we take a few moment to reflect on that, take it in, perhaps be inspired by that … maybe we wouldn’t feel so compelled to be negative all the time. Maybe there would be even less bad?
So, of those who took the time to answer the poll … What is needed? What would make you go? Have you talked with the fair board and offered to help?
Maybe you could suggest things and get involved. Volunteer. Perhaps develop something the fair board might be able to consider. Enter your tomatoes or a photograph you took. Participate. Join your neighbor. Support your fire department. Support the next generation. Teach classes at the fair. Something.
It might be a small matter of stepping up and talking to the fair board members or local 4-H groups. Or ask one of the many volunteers, most of whom are getting up in age, if you can help them out. In doing so, you might gain a little perspective of what the fair is and what you might be able to offer to make it better.
In this day and age of young people getting involved in heroin and other things, perhaps something as simple as getting involved in understanding how to raise a pig or can 3 bushels of butter beans could save your or your kid’s life.
And if you want to restore your faith in humanity, just go and observe how these kids behave overall. How this is family and it is education. And, instead of just saying you don’t care to attend, maybe come up with something that will help make it better.
Check out a little story from 2016 :http://venangoextra.com/my-10-year-old-teacher
or thoughts on the first day of the fair this year: http://venangoextra.com/fumblin-with-the-vid-and-other-moments-from-today
More photos of this years fair at: http://www.thederrick.com/gallery/slideshow-a-look-back-at-the-venango-county-fair/collection_dbf9cfde-821a-11e7-a086-03326dccf268.html