March of 2000, wasn’t that a million years ago? That was the last time I walked into the show ring at the Putnam County Fair as a youth exhibitor. Who would have thought I would come back to that same arena as the University of Florida/IFAS 4-H Youth Development Agent in 2022? It sure wasn’t me! Something like this wasn’t even on my radar, back then. However, here I am in this incredible new position, where I saw the fair through a new set of eyes this year.
As you drive up to the fair there are lights everywhere in the night sky; the glow brings excitement into the air! Yet, there is a whole other world in the fair, where the lights may not be so bright, but the laughter, fun, and excitement are certainly real. This part of the fair can be found in the cattle and swine barns. Kiddos from age 8-18, have been working since November with their swine (pig) projects and some even longer than that with their beef (cow) projects. These youngins have crawled out of bed to feed animals before the sun comes up and walked these pigs or halter broke their heifers and/or steer after school. Before the sun goes down, they make sure the animals are fed, there are no illnesses or wounds, and the heat lamps are on for the pigs on cold nights. Hours upon hours of preparation for a short 10-20 minutes in the show ring. Despite the hours of hard
work, endless patience (if you have ever worked with a stubborn, hard-headed animal, you know just what I’m talking about), and great responsibility, these kids would drag themselves out of bed to do it all over again. They will tell you those few minutes of showing off their project are worth it all! It is a hands-on opportunity to learn and grow that cannot be found in a book or a classroom. It is a chance not only for these young people to learn, but to teach others and continue this tradition through the generations that follow them.
Now there is a little more to these projects. This is where the amazing community, where I grew up and still live,
comes into play. People, just like you, and businesses from all over Putnam County gather on the final Friday night of the fair, every year. They come to a sale where the kids auction off these animals they have put their hearts and souls into over the last five months to a year. They support the youth in their community, the future of Putnam County, in whatever their future endeavors or dreams may be. Buying their own vehicle at 16, paying for college, investing in more animals, or maybe even donating their entire check to a brother as he prepares to travel across the world to the Philippines on a mission trip, as my own daughter is doing for my son.
These are life lessons our children cannot learn anywhere else. In a small community like Putnam County, we are blessed to provide these lessons to our youth. One day, quite a few years down the road (because I love my new job), I might look back on this 2022 trip to the fair where I saw it all through that new set of eyes. And maybe, just maybe, I will be training a new 4-H Agent that showed in that same show ring where my passion began, and it will all come full circle at the Putnam County Fair.
Featured image : Calf in a herd at local cattle company, Gulf Coast Cattle.
The author is employed by UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agriculture – An Equal Opportunity Institution.