Young farmer competitions, the heart of the county fair

Franklin County Fair 2013

John-Michael Reardon of River Hill Farm in Constable NY, patiently waits while his calf is judged in one of the divisions of the Beef Commercial Class. Photo: Mark Kurtz.

County fair season in New York is building with a manic frenzy to its annual climax – the Granddaddy (Grandmommy?) of county fairs…The Great New York State Fair. (I love that they actually put the word "great" in the title.)

Fair goers look forward to all that fried food, the rite-of-passage sausage that has made and broken political dreams, dizzying rides, and grandstand concerts by an odd assortment of musicians at the height, or maybe on the down slope, of their game. (Really, if you click on those links, it'll be worth it.)

But don't let the hype and the clutter and the monster trucks let you lose sight of the beating heart of the State Fair, and every county fair everywhere.

Franklin County Fair 2013

Beef Show Judge Jack Oattes of Cobden Ontario takes a few moments to look over Lacey Pombrio's entry in one of the Beef Commercial Classes. Lacey is one of several family members of the Corbeau Creek Angus farm in Altona NY that participated in this year's fair competition. Photo: Mark Kurtz.

It's all about the farming competitions, especially the youth showing competitions. According to a brief history of county fairs by the Encyclopedia of Chicago, livestock judging, plowing contests, and the like were what brought people together in the first place. And soon after came 4-H:

Early in the decade of the 1900s, the Illinois Farmers' Institute began encouraging boys and girls to exhibit fair entries. The Institute began sponsoring regional and county chapters of a new national youth movement called 4-H, whose 4-leaf clover insignia with embossed H's signified the emphasis on Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. Perhaps the 4-H movement, which provided an important revitalization of livestock and domestic arts competition, was a reaction to the growing bawdiness of fairs.

Recently, NCPR photojournalist Mark Kurtz produced a phenomenal photo gallery from the 2013 Franklin county fair. All of the pictures tell a story, but what really caught my eye was his photographs of the young men and women showing their animals. The concentration, the emotion, the intensity, and the pride is all there.

And it's what separates a county or state fair from, well, an amusement park.

Check out these amazing photos here.


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