The end of June has arrived, and so have the preparations for the Trumbull County Fair. The fair begins on July 7 and runs through July 14.
This year, the preparations by my family are minimal. I have retired from being a 4-H adviser, and our children have all aged out of the 4-H program. So even though we are not in the final push to get animals ready to take to the fair, this time of year makes me think of my childhood memories of going to the fair and of growing up on the farm.
I grew up on a dairy farm in northeastern Geauga County. My father was the adviser of my 4-H club, the Thompson Ledge Dairymen. My older sister and brother had been members for several years by the time that I was old enough to join 43 years ago. So when I finished third grade, I was ready to be a member of 4-H and have some fun.
I learned that taking a dairy calf to the fair was a lot of fun but a lot of work, too. Had to practice leading, of course, but washing cows was no fun. No longer was I allowed to sleep in and come to the fair with my mom on show day. I was up early on those cold, September mornings. We had to get to the fairgrounds early to wash our cows so they would be clean and dry by show time. When my sister was old enough to drive, she was the one in charge on those mornings. I remember Linda being quite the taskmaster.
There was also disappointment during those early years. Most children want to win whatever the competition. Well, I was no exception. At that time, there were more dairy farms, and more children involved in dairy 4-H, so there was heavy competition. I often found myself in the bottom half of the class.
I remember my dad having a talk with me after one particular show day when my heifer and I placed last in our class. He told me that all our cows were working girls. Their main priority was making milk and the prettiest cows that won the shows didn’t necessarily make a lot of milk.
My dad’s breeding program priorities still favored milk production, but when it came to selecting a sire for one of the 4-H entries, “type” was a close second. Type are those dairy characteristics that win blue ribbons.
My family and many of my friends know who Betty is. She was the cow that chased my post-show- day tears away. She was a good-looking heifer, but after she had her first calf, Joy, she blossomed. She may not have won her class every time, but she was in the top half. Joy was also a very good-looking cow. Together in the dam and daughter class, they were about unbeatable. I showed Betty for seven years in 4-H and Joy for five years.
If you haven’t guessed, these two cows became more like pets to me. They proved themselves by the milk they produced as well as in the show ring. I think my dad would have to admit that they were more than working girls to him, too.
I missed them when I went off to college. When I would come home for the weekend, I would always take time to see them. They were generally in the same part of the barn so they were easy to find and seemed glad to see me, too.
When I was young, 4-H was about being ready to go to fair and having fun when we got there. But looking back, there was a lot of learning and life lessons along the way — being a member of a club, taking on and learning new responsibilities, public service projects and other learning opportunities. I believe, and I bet many 4-H alumni would agree, 4-H helps prepare you for the next step — for an occupation or like me, it was college, then an occupation.
If you are a 4-H family, good luck this year and have fun. If you are looking for something fun to do July 7 through July 14, check out the Junior Fair schedule and see what 4-H is all about.
Submitted by Mary Smallsreed, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau, who grew up on a family dairy farm in northeast Ohio.
OFBF Mission: Working together for Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen our communities.