What’s more Americana than the County Fair? I didn’t really understand this when I lived in the very urban area of Los Angeles, CA. There, to me, the County Fair was the place to go shopping, eat fried food, and drink beer. And, don’t get me wrong, those activities are still very much part of the County Fair experience.
But after relocating to a rural county where farming is a way of life, families raise animals, and a great majority of the kids are in Future Farmers of America (FFA) or 4H, I see the County Fair a bit differently now. In addition to the fried food and beer, I now spend a majority of my Fair time wandering through the animal barns and the various buildings displaying the contest entries. Flowers, vegetables, quilts, paintings, photos, poetry, baked goods (especially “ugly cake” open just to kids)… it’s all there. I love looking for the blue ribbon entries and reading the tag to see if it belongs to one of my friends. Once I entered my cookies and won two blue ribbons!
I really love the animal barns. It takes a while because, as I said, there are a lot of kids in 4H and they spend all year raising an animal (or several) to bring to fair. Some are “show animals” - like most of the rabbits. Many are “meat animals” that are sold at the auction on Saturday afternoon. These kids put in a lot of time and effort all year long, learning to care for an animal, and then - for the auction animals - have to see them sold off at the end. There is an incredible mix of emotions - pride and sadness primarily - in getting a good price for your animal and knowing the animal you raised will become someone’s dinner.
Oh, and the racetrack. My pulse has always quickened at the sound of race cars gearing up for a spin around the track. And our County Fair does not disappoint. Each night of the Fair, a different race style is highlighted. One night is mud bogs, another demolition derby, and the greatest of all - the boat races. Nope, I’m not saying the fairgrounds are on the lake and we watch boats race. No, siree! These worn-out old boats are towed by (barely) running vehicles, without trailers, on a wetted and soaped track. They slip and slide and slam into the walls and each other. It’s ridiculously fun to watch. The victor is whoever wins the applause-o-meter when time is up.
“Hey,” you might be saying, “I came here to read about camping.” Yes, yes, I’m getting to that.
Unlike the County Fairs in southern California, where Fairs last for several weeks, our little County Fair is held on Labor Day weekend, Thursday through Sunday. The 4H families arrive on Wednesday, transporting the animals to the barns and setting them up for showing. About 50-60 families bring their tents, trailer, or motorhomes and set up to spend the weekend caring for the animals and enjoying the Fair.
I am an active member of our local Theatre Company. For years before I was involved, the Fair has hired the Theatre Company to provide various customer services through the weekend. One of those services is Camp Host to the 4H camp. Last year and this year, I jumped at the chance for that job. I mean, combine Fair with camping? What could be better?!?
I, too, arrive on Wednesday and my camp site is nearest the entry gate. With the help of other day-time volunteers, we monitor the gate to make sure anyone driving in is supposed to be driving in. When it’s quiet enough, I like to ask what animal each kid has raised, how they did in the judging and auction, and whether they’ll come back next year. I’ll have a beer with the parents, get invited to “smoked brisket night,” and marvel at how many people I know from “real life” that I discover are also 4H parents.
The 4H “campground” is usually just a big empty lot, so there are no hookups, and the spaces are chalked out on the ground before arrival. It’s a boondocker’s delight! Luckily, the fairgrounds are right in town, and it’s a short drive from home, so driving with a full water tank isn’t bad. I am also lucky that my site is along a fence line with some trees, so I get shade. We still haven’t decided that we need to buy a generator, so a wonderful friend loaned me one so I could run the air conditioning. I only had to do that for two short sessions; the weekend was quite pleasant! I pack food for breakfasts (I get to use my stove-top toaster!) and snacks, but let’s face it - I’m not about to cook dinner when I can eat FAIR FOOD!
Monday morning we have some breakfast and pack up for the short drive home. Thanks to the local yacht club (hey, I said the fairgrounds weren’t on the lake, I didn’t say the town wasn’t) there is a free dump station in town so we visit that on the way home.
Well, one thing that could be better would be scheduling nap time each afternoon, after staying up to lock the gates at midnight and getting up to open them before the local kids start arriving to feed their animals at 5:00! I’m a bit sleep deprived on this lovely Labor Day. I’ll have to plan better in the future. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a nap.