Some of my favorite childhood memories involve trips to the county fair, and this time of year counties across Illinois are continuing their traditions of bringing people together for celebrations of community spirit. From hot dogs, lemon shake-ups, cotton candy and funnel cakes, to livestock exhibits, carnival rides, concerts, and pageants, county fairs offer something for everyone.
The centerpiece of county fairs is livestock exhibits and judging. In the months and sometimes years leading up to a fair, kids, many from 4-H or FFA programs, follow a rigorous program to prepare their animals of choice for show. Whether they are showing beef, dairy cattle, goats, poultry, rabbits, sheep or swine, preparing an animal for show at a fair takes dedication, grit, and a lot of hard work.
The benefits of this youth program cannot be understated. Kids and young adults are provided with a unique opportunity for personal growth and development when they become responsible for the feeding, watering, grooming, and caring for the overall health of an animal. They learn the value of honesty and loyalty and the importance of hard work. They learn about teamwork, ethics, and the value of a healthy diet. Participants also learn the importance of winning and losing with grace, and the sense of pride that comes along with doing their very best on a difficult project. Perseverance and resilience are also byproducts of learning how to prepare an animal for show at a county fair.
These positive character traits carry into adulthood and help these young people become outstanding, contributing adults. Just think of how different our nation might be if all children benefitted from lessons in respect, personal responsibility, fairness, the value of hard work, and putting the needs of others ahead of themselves.
The educational benefits of these agriculture expos are not limited to participants. They also extend to those who live in non-rural areas. People can come to their county fair and learn about agriculture by seeing how a cow is milked, how sheep are sheared, and most importantly, how the food they enjoy is raised and harvested by farmers who earn their livelihoods by putting food on America’s table.
One of the first agricultural expos in this nation was right here in Illinois in the Naper Settlement, which is now known as Naperville. As far back as the 1840s, agriculture groups were organizing fairs and creating opportunities for people to showcase their livestock and gather in celebration of their community. These expos have expanded over time to the point where today, nearly every Illinois County offers a county fair with livestock exhibits.
We are fortunate in this area to be the home of Illinois’ longest-running consecutive county fair. The JoDaviess County Fair has been a staple in Illinois’ most northwest county every year since 1860. Each year residents gather in the Village of Warren to enjoy the festivities, which include livestock contests, carnival rides, derby events, food vendors, a pageant, and many other activities.
A full list of county fairs in Illinois can be found on the Illinois Department of Agriculture website (agr.illinois.gov) under the “Fairs” tab. The Stephenson County Fair just concluded, but fairs in JoDaviess, Ogle, Winnebago, Boone, Carroll, and DeKalb Counties are all scheduled for early-to-mid August. Information about the Illinois State Fairs in Springfield (August 10-20) and DuQuoin (August 25-September 4) can also be found on the Department of Agriculture website, and those fairs also offer a wide variety of family fun.
Whether you are a regular attendee of county fairs, or are looking to try something new this year, I really recommend you check out your county fair or a fair near you. You will enjoy seeing the pride on the faces of the youth showing livestock, and will be transported back to a simpler time when good, wholesome fun was commonplace. I hope to see you at the fairgrounds!