Life Lessons from County Fair

teen girl kneeling by pigs in a pen
Erin with her show pigs at her county fair.

It doesn’t matter if you are a city kid or a farm kid – summertime is filled with activities. For a large portion of my 21 years, my summer favorite is the county fair that I grew up attending. Being involved with 4-H and FFA allowed me to take part in numerous activities at fair. Even before I was old enough to participate, I would be in total awe of what the “big kids” were doing and couldn’t wait until it was my turn. While my days of making cookies and showing livestock have ended, the life lessons that I learned will stay with me forever. Here are three life lessons that I learned from years of county fairs. 

Little eyes are always watching – be a role model

teen girl in formal dress, sash and crown holding flowers in front of a backdrop that reads O'Brien County Fair
Erin was the 2018 O’Brien County Fair Queen.

As a younger 4-Her, I always looked up to older members. Whether in the livestock show ring, creating static exhibits or  even running for fair royalty, older kids were already impacting me at a young age. As I grew up, I realized that I had to behave like a role model – just like the kids that I learned from years before. When I was crowned our county fair queen, I suddenly realized that I was representing something larger than myself. The most rewarding part of my entire 4-H career was being told that I was someone a friend looked up to in the show ring. Being true to your values and setting an example of hard work and respect is one of the best ways you can keep younger kids involved and inspire them to do their best. 

a young girl and an older woman talk at a table
Erin does interview judging on static exhibits at her county fair.

Take pride in your work

Winning overall grand champion or being picked to go to state with your non-livestock entries was always a feel-good accomplishment, to me it wasn’t always about winning. Small moments and taking pride in the project you are presenting or the animal you are showing were often just as rewarding. Whether finding a new lemon blueberry donut recipe you loved or raising your show animal from a newborn, little lessons along the road to county fair made life sweet without winning a single prize. And while every exhibitor dreams about getting the coveted first place prize, it isn’t always about that. For me, pride in your work and dedication is worth more than any first place prize.

The ag industry becomes a second home

young girl on a farm leading a black calf on a halter
Erin practices showing her show calf.

I have been blessed to grow up around agriculture. Fair week was always the time to hang out with your closest friends. Just last month, I was able to visit my county fair – O’Brien County, IA – and watch my younger brother and cousins show. The judge for the cattle show had some amazing comments about what showing livestock and the ag industry as a whole provides kids. “You raise kids in an industry like this to be winners, but not just winners in the ring, but winners in life. Raising cattle and being a part of the agriculture scene with my family has brought me so many opportunities and friendships and that is what I mean by winning at life means, you become rich in life with the people you surround yourself with.” You create some of the closest friendships and spark future career interests by being involved in an industry like this. 

More than just a county fair

As the years pass and my time showing and making projects for the county fair is over, I know those county fair experiences made me a better person. Looking back on the late nights working on static projects and washing and walking livestock, I’m so thankful for the time I had at my county fair. And while I wish those days were still mine to have, I know the lessons I learned will continue to serve me and my community well. 


This article was written by Stockyards Ag Experience Education and Marketing intern Erin Wagner. Erin is an Ag Leadership major at South Dakota State University. Erin’s hometown is Primghar