What impact does the county fair have on American communities?

County fairs are more than just a yearly carnival, they’re a chance for community building and leadership development opportunities.

 “I have to get down to the fair and get my elephant ear!” Or corn dog, or candied apple, or whatever the deep-fried, sugary treat of choice happens to be. This is a familiar chorus that rings out across every city or town in America in tempo with the rise and fall of the temporary municipalities we call county fairs, as they make their way from one small town to another through the course of summer. Families with children also know the fair is in town by the magnetic allure of the carnival rides calling out to small eyes, ears and hearts. This is the extent to which people outside the fair community view this annual attraction.

The scene is much different from the eye of the storm. Certainly the event creates a buzz amongst those “involved” – the exhibitors, volunteers and staff. Though planning starts an entire year in advance, there are so many last minute preparations. Exhibitors rush to finish projects, volunteers make final arrangements, staff double check task lists. The days fly by, the countdown speeds up, conversations everywhere turn to the big event, “What do you have left to do before fair week?”

Most people fail to see the true impact of the county fair. This is likely because they view the county fair merely as a traveling carnival they may or may not make a visit to this year, or they are so wrapped up in the details of what they need to get done for the event that they never have a chance to enjoy it.

A 4-H alumnus will tell you that like other young adults, they make it home to visit only a few times each year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and during their home county fair. There are county fairs everywhere, so why make a special trip when you can get the same experience anywhere? Because the county fair is more than a carnival, it is a community. Attending the fair is an opportunity for 4-H alumni to thank the 4-H leaders that have helped them shape their future from the time they first joined until they completed their last project, and into their current undertakings. Sharing in success stories reaffirms the leader’s purpose in the program.

The county fair tradition is woven into the fabric of nearly every American community. It presents opportunities for young people to foster life skills such as communication, leadership, goal setting, work ethic, responsibility and sportsmanship. Community service and volunteer leadership are at the root of the success of the county fair. Generations of community leaders have been born out of the ideologies instilled in our youth and their families through their involvement in 4-H clubs, an institution that furnishes a legacy of volunteer service and youth development; renewing leadership to the local community and beyond. Many hands make light work is a living philosophy that accomplishes tasks beyond imagination.

The electric atmosphere of the county fair stimulates cultivation of a vibrant community. People from throughout the area are drawn together for a common cause: showcasing the achievements of their citizens and promoting their youth. Individual talents are employed toward the success of the whole community. Families take time to learn together, sharing in life lessons and building new skills. Cross county relationships are developed, broadening perspectives and intermingling experience. Long-time friendships are rekindled over new memories.

Next time the county fair sets up shop in your town, don’t just dismiss the event as another entertainment option. Certainly the affair will have an economic impact, but more importantly the influence on catalyzing community development will have a longer lasting stimulus. Immerse yourself in the community building and leadership development opportunities at your local county fair to discover the real impacts it has on American communities.

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