I’ve heard it said that, “You can’t call yourself a local until you’ve been to the Franklin County Fair.” It’s the area’s longest-running tradition and one of the oldest county fairs in New York state. Unfortunately, there won’t be a Franklin County Fair this year. In fact, there won’t be any county fairs at all this year in the North Country.
For the kids, that means no midway; no Scrambler, no Tilt-A-Whirl, no Starship 3000, no Crystal Lil’s funhouse, no Ferris wheel. For us older folks, it means no sausage sandwiches, no fried dough, no maple donuts, no french fries, no cotton candy, and no bloomin’ onions. It also means no grandstand stage shows, no demolition derbies, no tractor pulls, no harness racing. And no beer tent.
And for all of the 4-H families and Future Farmers of America (FFA) members who work especially hard and really look forward to showing their cattle, their skills, and their projects at the fair, it means no competitions and no ribbons attached to their well-cared-for livestock or their produce, plants and crafts projects.
Or does it?
4-H youth and their families are deeply committed to raising healthy, high-quality animals. And they take great pride in them. Over the years, I’ve received a lot of enjoyment watching 4-H member-families decorate and ready the stalls and pens that will temporarily be home to their prized horses, cows, goats and sheep. Words cannot describe the love, pride and individual care given by these remarkably enthusiastic boys and girls to their exceptionally well-cared-for animals. For many of them, it’s the highlight of their year.
I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I’m extremely thankful for the many wonderful memories I have of the fair. Even before I went to work for Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), I liked walking through the barns to view the much-loved livestock animals in their pens and stalls. And I’ve always enjoyed the equestrian and livestock exhibits in the 4-H barn and the demonstrations, shows and competitions taking place in the 4-H show pavilion. I’ve marveled at the condition, appearance and behavior of numerous prize-winning animals. And I’ve been exceedingly impressed by the dedication and devotion of their young owners to them.
On several occasions, 4-H alumni have shared stories with me about their 4-H club activities and 4-H trips, of their first week at 4-H Camp Overlook in Mountain View, of the projects they made and the animals they showed at the fair, of the things they learned through 4-H, and of the competitors they met along the way who became lifelong friends. Some still have the 4-H ribbons that they won when they were kids.
CCE of Franklin County has always promoted 4-H youth development through 4-H clubs, in-school and after-school programs, and by offering opportunities for 4-H club-members to participate in National 4-H Conferences, statewide events at Cornell University and elsewhere, and our county and New York state fairs. For many Franklin County 4-H and FFA youth, the Franklin County Fair is their best opportunity to showcase all that they’ve learned during the year and to receive feedback and recognition about their exhibits and what they’ve learned.
Extension 4-H educators and volunteers understand why this year’s decision to cancel the Franklin County Fair had to be made. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only time that the Franklin County Fair has ever been cancelled. And I expect that the decision by the Agricultural Society to cancel was anything but easy.
Still, the thought of our 4-H club and FFA members not having the opportunity to show their animals and projects this year seems so unfair. Especially after those youngsters and teens, worked so caringly, attentively and enthusiastically to complete their animal and other projects, even after hearing that the fair had been cancelled.
So, with the health and safety of our 4-H youth, their families and their animals as their No. 1 priority, Franklin County Extension 4-H staff and volunteers, many of whom have fond memories of competing at the fair themselves, decided to bring the feedback, recognition and learning usually associated with presenting at the fair to the kids at their homes.
Prior to the 20th of July, enrolled 4-H club members and FFA students were able to enter their cattle, their small animals, their woodworking and sewing projects, their posters, and any other animal or nonanimal project they’ve been working on for evaluation, which is slated to begin on Aug. 21. For animal projects, a panel of judges will visit the kids at their homes. And for nonanimal projects, judges will meet with the kids, one on one, at a pre-determined location. Ribbons and special awards will be presented, although no premiums will be paid out. Photos and videos of the projects and project animals will be taken and used for final review and naming of champion projects.
As far as I’m concerned, the life lessons that participating 4-H and FFA members, staff and volunteers are learning, and their determination to find practical, innovative ways to engage in fundamental 4-H activities during these trying times are inspiring and makes them all champions.
Congratulations to everyone.