As we do every year, we brought Veronica to the fair. Her favorite, every year, is feeding the goats.
The Los Angeles County fair has a big pen full of goats of varying sizes, most of whom are interested in the little cups of feed they sell for $3. The goats and sheep, with the occasional alpaca, will bump up to demand their share of the feed pellets.
Yes, they smell like animals. The barn smells worse. I take her around to see the funny chickens, rabbits, pigs, and what-have-you on display.
I remember my times at the fair. The Alaska state fair, where I spent my early teen years taking care of different animals.
We were part of 4-H. It started with rabbits, and then moved on to pigs and calves. The apex of 4-H life was the fair. When we were exhibiting, and we exhibited every year, we had to go to the fair every day for a week to take care of our animals. Feed and water them, sure, but also wash and groom so that they showed well. They were judged.
Some of the 4-H kids would enter other things in the fair. Baking or sewing was easier; you didn’t have to stick around to take care of those. There were arts and crafts too.
Not just for kids. Grownups joined in the contests too.
The county fair was sparse this year. From what I can tell, 4-H doesn’t really do animals and crafts like they used to. It’s moved on to “lifelong learning.”
The supporting institution, the Extension Service, isn’t even a thing anymore. It’s combined and repurposed into something else altogether.
4-H started out as a way of empowering kids to learn something even their parents didn’t know. How to grow plants and livestock even better. And the county fairs were about letting regular people have a chance to show off, to work for and achieve recognition.
Communities have set aside these places, fairgrounds and competitions. We have formally valued them as our traditions, like Christmas or 4th of July.
It’s eroding. I’m sad to see how the fair has shrunk from year to year, even as the prices have gone up.
I wonder whether our daughter will have the tradition to share with her children. No doubt it will be very different then.