County Fairs: Much More Than Just Corn Dogs

I grew up a 4-H kid, doing projects, writing reports, going to meetings and delivering presentations. We raised lambs and showed them at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma and the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa. I really loved the Fairs, the rides, the food, the people and the animals too. But I think I also loved the sense of autonomy. Mom or Dad would put a few bucks in my hand, and drop me off at the Fair to take care of the animals and I would be there most of the day.

I may not have realized it at the time, but with $5.00 in my pocket and all day at the fair, I had to learn responsibility, budgeting, and time management. There’s not much worse than running out of money with 3-4 hours left to go before they come to pick you up. And of course, this was long before the days of cell phones. I will tell you though, that if you’re looking for an exercise in futility, dress a ten year old boy in an all-white 4-H uniform, drop him off at the fair in the morning and expect him to stay clean enough for Showmanship in the afternoon. I never did win at showmanship…

I did however, learn a lot by being in 4-H and participating in the Fairs. We had to take care of the lambs all spring and summer, then show them at the fair, and sell them at the auction. Dad bought the feed, but we paid him back out of the auction proceeds. And yes—we knew what happened to the lambs after we sold them. That’s an important lesson too.

These fond memories of the Fair carried over into my adult years too—because, for several years in the 80’s and 90s I was the public address announcer at the Nevada County Fair in Grass Valley, announcing upcoming events, lost children and don’t forget the demolition derby starts at 7:30 sharp. The relationships I built there are still important to me—Ed Scofield was the General Manager of the Fair then and now he’s a Nevada County Supervisor and a CSAC Board member.

The best thing about the Nevada County Fair, is that most of the food booths on “Treat Street” are sponsored by local service clubs and non-profits, so you feel pretty good about spending your money there—and, unless the recipe has changed, the Job’s Daughters’ corn dogs are pretty much to die for.

So—why this trip down memory lane about County Fairs? Because over the past several years—they, like many other “non-essential” programs have suffered budget cuts from the state. And unfortunately, there wasn’t any relief in the recent state budget. Many Fairs are in danger of closing. Take a look at this news story from a Fresno TV Station about the Tulare County Fair. Although County Fairs do have a strong ally in Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, a former CSAC President, we could still lose these important links to our agricultural heritage.

I know—it’s hard to justify spending money on Fairs, when other services and programs have also been cut. Education, health care, and law enforcement have all been hit by the recession and lean budget years. But I think it’s also important to note that not all education takes place in a classroom, kids caring for animals is one form of crime prevention, and teaching kids where their food comes from is also a part of being healthy—even if today, lunch is a Job’s daughter’s corn dog.

About: Gregg Fishman:
Gregg Fishman is the Communications Coordinator for the California State Association of Counties.

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