Bryar Killen, Carlisle, stands outside of a livestock barn at the Warren County Fair in Indianola. Killen was showing a duck during the fair while making new friends.
What makes Iowa county fairs great? I’m guessing if you ask that question to a group of people you would get quite a few different answers.
While I explored five different county fairs this year, and many others in the past, I’ve always asked myself that same question. I’ve photographed and written about many of these fairs over the past 12 years working for farm organizations and have always came up with the same primary answer. County fairs are a place to showcase hard work and community spirit here in the Heartland!
Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will visit about 30 county fairs across the state this year. For him, showing cattle in 4-H competitions at the Dickinson County Fair when he was young was a great experience.
“Fairs are an important part of the culture of our counties and rural areas,”Northey said. “They are a great opportunity for kids to showcase projects they have been working on for months and also for the public to learn more about modern agriculture. Showing at the fair fought me so much and I still have friends from my time in 4-H.”
Mason Burkett, Grand Junction, helps Wade Wuebker, Jefferson, sheer his sheep during the Greene County Fair in Jefferson.
A group of boys play a friendly game of cards in the livestock barn at the Crawford County Fair in Denison.
Shannon Latham, Alexander, said the Butler County Fair was always a highlight of her summer growing up.
“It seriously was the social event of the season,”she said. “I enjoyed the camaraderie as much as the competition. I learned it’s just as important to be a gracious winner as it is to be a gracious loser.”
Setting project goals in 4-H inspired her to try new things when she was young and she said now she can look back at those experiences and see that it still helps her in managing multiple tasks and finding motivation in her role as vice president for Latham Seeds.
An exhausted Paige Saunders sleeps in a chair while a swine show takes place at the Crawford County Fair in Denison. Saunders had a busy fair showing sheep, hogs and winning the grand champion award in the lamb show.
The magic of the county fair lives on in Latham’s children. Whether it is working with her teenage son on a woodworking project or helping her daughter show livestock.
“This year my daughter showed rabbits, goats and her horse,”Latham said. “She told me next year she wants to show chickens because ‘it’s always good to try new things.’ Don’t you just love it when kids actually repeat something you’ve said? I couldn’t think of a legitimate response to dissuade her, so we’re in the process of building a chicken coop!”
Visiting with old friends and representing the community also draws Latham back to the fair year after year.
“Now that I’m an adult, county fair week remains a time to catch up with friends and make new acquaintances who share similar interests,”Latham said. “I also spend a great more deal of my time during county fair week serving others. I volunteer in the 4-H food stand and help promote Franklin County as a member of the Tourism Committee.”
Rachael Chase teaches Brenna Murphy how to milk a goat at the Warren County Fair in Indianola.
A group of awards are stacked on a table before being awarded to youth at the Central Iowa Fair in Marshalltown.
Steve Swenka has been attending the Johnson County Fair for decades. He also has great memories of his time showing at the fair and helping his children prepare for the fair.
“Unlike extra-curricular activities at school, 4-H and county fairs are a true family event. Some projects, such as livestock, start nearly a whole year before the fair,”Swenka said from his farm near Tiffin. “It’s an amazing experience for parents to work with their kids on a daily basis leading up to the fair and then watching them in the show ring. The amount of pride you have for your kids is unbelievable.”
A mom waits for her daughter as people enjoy amusement rides and a perfect evening at the Warren County Fair in Indianola.
The images throughout this blog are some of the fun moments captured at county fairs across the state this year. With the Iowa State Fair just around the corner, many fair participants are getting ready to hit the big stage and show their hard work to visitors from around the world right here in Des Moines.
Faces of the fair
Pictured clockwise from top left: Jack Schilling, Jefferson, holds one of his roosters during the Greene County Fair in Jefferson; Laura Rauschenberg, Dallas Center, rests after practicing with her goats at the Dallas County Fair; Conner Collins, Denison, helps in the livestock barn at the Crawford County Fair; Dylan Vetter mans the 4-H food stand at the Crawford County Fair; Alexis Schroeder, Denison, keeps her pigs cool while showing at the Crawford County Fair.
Story and photos by Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager