(PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The following is an opinion piece written after a day of observations at the 95th annual Wayne County Fair.)
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I passed the big Five-Oh last year, which means I’m officially . . . for lack of a better term . . . old.
And you know how old people get – they like to look back on their youth as a time when everything was better and that kids today don’t work as hard as we did back in the day to accomplish anything meaningful.
Kids don’t want to work hard these days, you’ll hear some of my fellow “old” friends say. They’re too busy staring at their smartphones and would rather play XBox than go outside and do something constructive. They want the brass ring now without having to do any of the work that it takes to make it happen.
Thursday, I took the opportunity to watch many of the 4-H kids as they prepared to enter animals, artwork and foods and vegetables for judging during the 95th annual Wayne County Fair. Everything from green peppers to goats, photography to pigs, has been on display as the youth of our community showed off their talents and gifts.
And one thing I took from that walk around the fairgrounds was this – there are some INCREDIBLY hard-working kids out there who know what it takes to do a job well.
The artistry of kids who created everything from a quality photo to a perfectly-painted corn hole game with a Nebraska Huskers logo painted on it was quite impressive to look at. Some of the breads and muffins that were judged made the stomach grumble – if I could have gotten away with pinching a bite of a blueberry muffin, I’m sure it would have tasted as good as it looked. The green beans and peppers and other vegetables that were grown and presented looked amazing.
And then there were the boys and girls who showed animals of all shapes and sizes, from goats to cattle, and the work that goes into preparing and showing those animals in the arena is something to behold.
I showed our family’s miniature schnauzer when I was younger. I was fortunate enough to win a reserve grand champion at our county fair, then took the dog to the state fair and earned a reserve grand champion award there as well. And I will be the first to admit – a lot of that was the result of having an incredibly smart dog that was able to overcome her master’s unwillingness to put in any more than the minimum amount of practice time needed to show an animal at a high level. (I was busy with more important things, like going swimming with friends and playing video games in the basement family room.)
When it comes to showing livestock, horses or the other animals that are showcased at the Wayne County Fair, it takes a LOT more work than what I put in with my dog, and you can see it with these young men and women. They are very particular about how their pens are set up for their animals and work to make sure their animals are comfortable and ready for the show. They dress themselves up like they’re headed for a business meeting – shirts pressed, not a hair out of place and the girls’ makeup perfect for when they ride their horse or show their animal.
Ask the kids about their animals, and they’ll tell you everything you could possibly want to know, from the breed to what it is raised for and what its diet consists of. Can you tell the difference between a goat being raised for its milk and one raised for its meat? Unless you have experience raising goats, it’s a good bet that you can’t. Can you tell a 2-year-old horse from a 3-year-old horse just by looking at it? Odds are, probably not. These kids will tell you the horse’s age, breed, the horse’s parental lineage – you’ll find out the horse’s entire history by the time you’re done talking to the kid who is showing it.
And showing these animals in the arena is, by no means, easy. You don’t just walk the pig around a couple of times. You have to WORK the pig to make sure the judge sees it at its best every second that it is in the arena. You not only have to position the pig, but you have to make sure your eyes are on the judge and that you aren’t impeding the judge’s view of your animal. When the animal refuses to cooperate and you’re trying to get the animal where you want them while not taking your eyes off the judge, it’s a little like juggling chain saws while rollerskating down a gravel road.
All of that work isn’t something you just show up for – it takes hours upon hours of work, from feeding and caring for the animal to the practice time it takes to know where to stand, how to position the animal . . . none of this happens without a ton of time and effort being put in by these young men and women who show these beautiful animals.
The end result comes with the awarding of ribbons and champion or reserve champion awards, but the reward is in the kids understanding that it takes a lot of hard work to be a successful showman in the 4-H arena, whether its showing a champion hog or creating a top-notch work of art. The ribbons and awards are the reward we all get to see – but the true reward comes in the knowledge the kids gain as they prepare for showing their talents at the Wayne County Fair. They learn that hard work is the key to being a success at anything, and those are lessons that will help them in later years as they grow up and become the future farmers, ranchers, businesspeople and creative talents that will lead us in the future.
For some of us old fogeys, the younger generation’s work ethic is viewed as, to put it in kind terms, questionable. For this old guy, though, watching these kids work and seeing the fruits of their labors gives me the thought that maybe there IS hope for the generation to come . . . and I look forward to seeing where these experiences take them.