On the very last day of our month-long stay in Door County, we devoted a few hours to attend the Door County Fair in Sturgeon Bay. We went early to avoid the heat and the crowds that are more prevalent later in the day. We weren’t disappointed. The sky was a bright blue with a few poofy clouds and a light breeze blowing to keep us cool. The midway and grandstand were quiet. On this morning all the action on the fairgrounds was in the exhibit buildings.
After parking and paying the fair admission fee ($7), the friendly ticket lady pointed us in the direction of the exhibit buildings. Our first stop was at the 4-H building. “To make the best better,” the 4-H motto.
My Traveling Partner and I have been involved with 4-H and county fairs most of our lives. As kids we both were members of local 4-H clubs in North Dakota. She in Stark-Billings County and me in Mercer County. I took a hiatus from 4-H activities after I aged out at 18 until after I served in the Army and returned to North Dakota State University to complete my degree. While in school I took a part-time job working the local Urban 4-H Office developing 4-H based programs in Fargo and it’s suburbs. After completing a couple of degrees, I joined the NDSU Extension Service as a county agriculture agent that also included working with county 4-H clubs. Later, I spent two years in the State 4-H Office as the Interim 4-H Director before moving to Wisconsin where I worked part-time in the State 4-H Office for a few years while going to school.
By that time we had a couple of kids and soon we were involved as club leaders of a neighborhood 4-H Club here in Madison. We did that for over twenty years. One of the highlights of the 4-H year was helping club members exhibit projects at the local county fair. It was a lot of fun and satisfying to see kids develop skills as they progressed in their 4-H career even if it was only a couple of years. We gave up club leadership a few years ago. As we travel around the country, we look for local fairs to attend. It’s always entertaining and refreshing.
As we walked around the 4-H building, we wondered if the pandemic had an affect on 4-H membership and thus exhibiting at the fair. Club meetings were virtual for over a year, not conducive to building community and motivation for completing projects for exhibit. I focused on the photography exhibits (pun intended) while my Traveling Partner looked at the foods, clothing, and home environment projects. While there weren’t an abundance of exhibits, they were very nicely done. Way to go kids!
Nearby, the county health department had a booth encouraging healthy behaviors. We honed in on the tick display. This after spending a month living in a state park! The friendly nurses offered us each a tick kit in a small pouch. Now we have one at home and one in our camping trailer, all to avoid the nasty illnesses spread by tick bites.
From the 4-H building we crossed the street to the open class exhibits. Again, I went right to the photography exhibits where there was some real nice work on display. Then I checked out the field corn and garden produce while my Traveling Partner looked at the house plants and canning exhibits.
We moved over to the livestock barn where the 4-H dairy cattle show was underway. We watched while the judge made his selections. Many, many years ago, I judged dairy, beef, sheep, and pigs at county fairs or 4-H achievement days. I always enjoyed interacting with the exhibitors especially the youngest kids. They were often nervous or didn’t know what to do. In addition to judging the animal, I believed my job was to help the exhibitor learn. On the other hand, I knew there were parents and club leaders evaluating my performance. I had to make sure I did a decent job of placing the livestock.
After watching for a while, we made our way by the kids and cows in the show ring to the barn where the animals spend their time while at the fair. We passed these fellas, Buzz and Woody just chilling until the meat animal auction when they will be sold at a premium to the highest bidder. Those big boys top the scales at over 1600 pounds each. That’s a lot of hamburger!
This young woman was working really hard on combing out this heifer’s tail. This took me back to the days when I was young and preparing dairy animals for show. We trained the calves to lead by tying them to the old R Moline tractor and slowly driving around the yard. Then we’d wash and brush them out to remove the dirt, manure, and excess hair. We learned to clip them to emphasize their strong characteristics and deemphasize their weaknesses. We cleaned and sometimes polished their hooves and combed out their tail. In my first year in 4-H at age 10 or 11, I did none of these things. I was awarded a blue, a gift I think. Going forward, I learned that part of showing an animal was the art of showmanship.
After the animal is all clean and dolled up, it’s hard work to keep it clean until after the show ends. In the photo below, the parent or club leader is disposing of the waste produced by the animals. Somebody has to do it but they should have on proper footwear!
The next barn on our journey housed the poultry. We saw the chickens, ducks, geese, and ……….
the turkeys! I exhibited a turkey at our Achievement Days every year I was in 4-H. They have to the dumbest critter in the animal kingdom. They have a really small head and a big body. They also don’t need much of an excuse to die. My Mom saved all my 4-H record books. Most years, we ordered twenty-five turkey chicks and end the year with maybe fifteen remaining. Sometimes the dog would think it was fun to chase the turkeys until one or two would collapse. Sometimes it would be a sickness, sometimes I think one would just decide to lay down and die for no reason. One year, the turkeys were free ranging the yard when a rain storm with high winds came across the prairie from the southwest. The turkeys did get out of the weather by returning to their shed. But the wind or flying debris knocked away the steel post that propped the door open. The wind caused the door to flap open and closed. One turkey decided to look and see what the commotion was outside. At that moment, the door slammed shut. WHAM! A broken neck caused it’s death. If that wasn’t bad enough, another stood on the dead one to get even a better look, WHACK! Another one bites the dust. Then another, and another, and another until the wind finally died down. I think five dead turkeys prove my point. All this, a flashback from seeing this turkey at the Door County Fair! By the way, I got a blue ribbon the first year I exhibited. Another gift, me thinks!
Also in this barn were rabbits of all sizes, shapes, and colors. It was quite an array bunny cuteness. The rabbit judging was in progress with the judge awarding this cute little kid (81) the grand champion plus a couple of trophies. I couldn’t help but thinking the bunny AND the kid won on cuteness! These days I judge photography and other projects at fairs here in Wisconsin. I’ll admit that sometimes cuteness does win a kid a blue ribbon!
Next up were the sheep and pigs. We didn’t raise sheep or pigs on our farm. I do know that preparing a sheep for show is a lot of work, pigs not as much. In the third photo, pig number 45 was quite friendly or maybe looking for more grain to eat!
Our last stop was the horse barn. It was quiet but these two girls were taking Babe in and out of the stall. My guess the girls were practicing horse for this maneuver for the show. I’ve judged horses but never had any interest in showing them. As a county agent, I had enough of the parents of kids that showed horses to last me a lifetime. That’s all I’m saying about that!
My parting photo is of the ferris wheel against the beautiful sky. I’m sure that evening, it was busy with kids and maybe their parents going for a ride and a view of the whole fairgrounds.
We thoroughly enjoyed our few hours seeing the Door County Fair. It brought back a lot of memories of my own time as a kid in 4-H. When you are on your travels whether it’s near or far from your home base, look for a local fair. It tells you a lot about a community and the people who live there.
Until next week, happy travels!