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Empty fairgrounds in 2020 do not stop learning experiences for youth

By Sarah Noggle, Extension educator, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, Paulding County

This week (the week of June 15) is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Usually, it is the week of the first county fair in the State of Ohio, but our fairgrounds are sitting empty. You won’t hear the laughter of 4-H and FFA members from the barns.

Our hats go off to the Paulding County Sr. and Jr. Fairboards as this tough decision was made a few weeks ago. The economic impact on the fair board with social distancing and other guidelines made it almost economically impossible to hold the fair. This situation is tough, especially because fair is where my heart is personally every summer because of the many connections I have developed over the years. While this year’s pandemic has put a wrench in the county fair plan, the plan was already in another person’s hands that we have learned to live with by faith.

Our Paulding County 4-H and FFA members are some of the best kids around. They are hard-working, honest, community-serving, and they look out for each other. While 4-H and FFA are looking different in 2020, these youth are still alive and resilient. They have learned some of the hardest lessons in life through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our county youth have completed all the requirements (quality assurance, skillathon, livestock record keeping books, club or chapter meetings, community service, and a demonstration) to exhibit and show an animal at the county fair in a typical year. They didn’t give up even though the fair was cancelled.

Our Paulding County 4-H and FFA members have managed to shine through their respective organization mottos — “To Make the Best Better” (4-H) and “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live and Living to Serve” (FFA). These youth are learning the true meaning of livestock markets today. They are seeing what it is like to be raising livestock in a challenging economy. The child and their families who have completed these projects have more than likely thought through, “What are they in this for, and what do they hope to gain?”

As a 4-H advisor, I have heard from parents comments including: “I am glad my kids had animals in the barn to keep them working during quarantine; My kids have a reason to get up on time and stay active; These are still some of the best life lessons; I am glad for these animals because my kids would have probably been playing video games during all this time at home; These animals are truly providing food for our family; This isn’t at all about winning, it’s about life lessons.”

As a mom to two current 4-Hers/FFA member, I wish they could be at their favorite vacation spot of the year, but I know these kids will be okay. They are alive and healthy. They are still members of this community. They have learned some of the best but hardest lessons in life. It’s how they handle these lessons that make them stronger.

While the youth might not be showing animals at the fair, they are learning more significant lessons in life. They are still learning:

  1. Citizenship in our community
  2. Effective leadership skills
  3. Goal setting
  4. Sense of belonging
  5. Independence
  6. Mastery
  7. Generosity.

The youth have learned it’s not about the ribbon, prize, or trophy. It’s not about winning because you spent thousands of dollars on an animal or for bragging rights. Those things aren’t what the kids remember from the county fair, especially this year.

They will remember the good times. They are truly missing out on being with their fellow 4-Hers and FFA members. They are missing out on the non-related family bonding with the friendships they developed over the years at the fair. It’s the club booths and floats (which they sometimes complain about doing), then walking up and down the midway, hanging out in the barns, the FFA Sausage Sandwiches, the Grover Hill Homemade Ice Cream, and the safety of our small hometown fair. It’s seeing our community pull together for the greater good, whether it’s physical labor or monetary donations.

A special Thank you to all those still working so hard for our 4-H and FFA youth, including our 4-H Educator Michael Schweinsberg, Jr. Fairboard Advisors, Sr. Fairboard Members, 4-H advisors, and FFA advisors. Hats off to each one of you. You are all a part of helping these youth grow and succeed.

Our Paulding County Fair is not the largest or flashiest in the state, but it’s ours, and we value it. Our Paulding County agricultural community is robust. The loyalty and camaraderie among us are more significant than words can describe. And, this week, we miss it.

The 2020 Paulding County Fair was initially scheduled for June 15 through June 20 and was one of multiple Ohio fairs canceled due to COVID-19 concerns before the start of the fair season and guideline changes issued by the State of Ohio. It is typically the first fair of the season.


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