As the rain returns to Oregon, and the summer season fades, we are looking forward to the start of the new 4-H year. We have held on through 18 months of uncertainty, and the reality of the months that lie ahead is far from clear. Over the past months I have heard from so many readers and educators about the struggles they are facing on many levels, all in an effort to keep ensuring that youth are able to grow and thrive despite the circumstances. It has been tough, rough, exhausting and uncertain. And yet. And yet. And yet here are are again at the start of the 4-H year.
But before we say goodbye to the summer of 2021, I want to share with you an essay that was written by Candi Bothum, a long-time 4-H educator here in Oregon. She speaks truth. She speak everything we have been feeling. She speaks hope. And she speaks encouragement to all of us to keep going and doing everything we can to help youth thrive. Because in the end our work matters. Maybe now more than ever.
Fair, not Just a Four Letter F word by Candi Bothum
I just wanted to jot down a few things about the whole fair experience. I don’t really know why anyone would want to read what I write, but it makes me feel (another four letter F word) better to just see a few things on paper. I figured it out today, 28 county fairs as a staff member – not as many as some – more than most. I look back over those years and think about what has changed. Here at the Deschutes County fair, a new fairgrounds, new managers over the years and new operations staff. My role has changed from lifting heavy objects to asking for those objects to be lifted. I’m better at my job today than I was 10 years ago – heck I’m a better me than I was 10 years ago. I know you will find this hard to believe, but I’m more patient – that’s right, more patient. I don’t bite back as hard, my approach to conflict has changed, and I’m not as intense – that’s right, not as intense as I used to be. Still not a patient person, still a pretty intense person, and still have a bit of fight-back if you push too hard.
Somebody asked me the other day, “how come all 4-H agents want to quit after fair?” Well, of course, not “all” want to quit after fair – but I’ll admit I’ve had those same thoughts after many of those 28 county fairs. And why? Especially, to those who haven’t experienced the fair culture like a 4-H agent – it’s easy to understand why they don’t get it – after all, 5 days of fair food, carnival rides, and cute animals? Who doesn’t love that? Well for the 4-H Agent at the fair, the fair food happens at 10 pm when they are about to close and you get what’s left, often a cold hot dog, covered in something that used to be chili or cheese – not sure which. Or a 5 am pop-tart, because nothing is open and it’s what you found in the kitchen (probably from last year). Oh, and fair isn’t just a 5 day marathon, because first, there’s horse fair, then static entry day, then bring animals in day, then fair – and before all that, there’s activities, education, pre-fair, registration, entries, stall/pen assignments, auction details, etc. etc. etc. – I could go on for hours, but you get the idea.
Oh and the fair itself, the grumpy don’t like morning, why isn’t the coffee stand open people. The grumpy night time, why can’t we bring beer in the barn people. The daytime people who are just grumpy, because well, they are just grumpy. When you are a 4-H agent at most small fairs, you are responsible for everything, or at least everything that goes wrong. You have a name tag – therefore, it’s your fault. A couple of kids vandalized the T-shirt booth last night, those darn 4-H kids! The portable toilet got moved to the fair director camp site and tipped over, those darn 4-H kids! Five drunken teens were caught in the horse barn last night, those darn 4-H kids! Yes, these are all things that have happened that my 4-H kids were blamed for and didn’t do as well as many more and a few things they did do. This year, a guy threw a nearly full soda at me, because I had a nametag on and didn’t respond to his issue like he thought I should; regular fairgoer, not a 4-H person. Fair can be hard! I’ll spare you the many more reasons why.
Here’s the other side of the 14+ hour days of fair and leading up. Seeing joy in the faces of young people, learning, exhibiting, networking, selling, chatting with the public, sharing – there is nothing better. Sitting with a volunteer or two and hearing them “get it.” Knowing they understand the value of what we do, the true youth development that is happening before our eyes. It’s remarkable and rewarding. Whether raising food, production animals, or making a dress, shooting photos, practicing art, it doesn’t matter – those members, they are proud of what they do and I am proud for them and of them. Some of those projects take a lot of work and effort to have such an accomplishment. How many times did you have to rip that out, before the collar worked right? Did you have to hold or push that lamb to meet the weight requirement and how did you do that in a humane, industry approved way? How long have you worked as a team with that horse to accomplish flying lead changes? These accomplishments, they matter and what we do to help encourage them and build the confidence they need to do this – this matters too!
Then in the fall so many of these kids go on to college, trade school or enter the work force and they are prepared, better than most. They succeed in life. They become good parents, quality people, and contributors in our communities. Not just because of us, of course they have great families too, but we played a part in their opportunities. That has value. And, I have evidence based truth to prove it – 27 years, many more than that in the program (if I told you how many you would all figure out how very OLD I am). I have members whose kids are now becoming volunteers. I see those members come home from their journey after high school and they are contributors, workers, dedicated parents, and so much more. The successes that we have contributed to, the “leg up” we’ve given them, it matters and it matters big!
Yes, fair is crazy hard. But fair is such a small portion of what we do. Consider it annual child birth – a small amount of hurt and ugly, followed by many years of really great memories. My 4-H career is on its down side, as I move closer and closer to not doing 4-H or fair, I remember the many good things that have come out of all of this and there are so many more good than bad. Sure, I could write a book on the craziness, and while that would be a fun read, it’s the good stuff that would fill multiple volumes. It’s the happy memories, the ah-ha moments, the job well done, the quality sportsmanship, the youth helping youth, the sharing, the leadership; it’s those moments that would fill volumes. Keep on keepin’ on, it’s worth it. It really is.
Thank you for helping youth Thrive! Have a great beginning to your 4-H year!