Girl on Fire: Awaiting next year’s fairs

Pistol Pete[As seen in Creston News Advertiser, July 30, 2015]

The sun baked my skin and scents of wood chips, tilled Iowa earth and cow manure wafted on the warm breeze. I stood with my arms resting on a large metal gate at the south end of the Union County Fair show arena talking to several men about the beef show.

I have always been from the Midwest, but I had never found county fairs very interesting until I moved to Creston.

This summer I worked my third county fair season, traveling to Corning, Bedford, Mount Ayr and Afton regularly for two weeks, getting photos of animal show winners and children playing inside the fairgrounds. I met so many people this summer, more than I have in the past, including a little boy named Zach who was hiding a pellet gun from his grandmother, Cole Miller, and Jim Ed Beach of Winterset, the Madison County Fair board president.

I never realized just how important county fairs are to people until this summer. I mean, I always knew they were important, but no one had ever really explained out loud why. Beach and Miller discussed with me how different beef animals were graded, and several of the judges explained growing up with animals that were their livelihood, and having good animals to use as meat or sell was what brought home the bacon, so to speak.

I think being able to spend hours every day outside working with show animals, then spend hours every day in the hot summer sun showing those animals off to judges and audience members really is an amazing feat. So much perseverance and dedication goes into pursuing something like that, and then to be judged by one person at the end of it all and be able to stand the judgment, good or bad. I totally understand the stress these kids go through.

Being able to talk with Beach and Miller about what made good beef, and which kids would get which place, was interesting, since I’d never really had an in-depth conversation like that. Learning what it means to rate an animal for the carcass class, when calves are born and the proper way to show an animal (no hats or chewing gum helps heaps) opened up a door to this world of agriculture I’d never known before.

I never thought I’d say something like this, but, while I don’t like the insane hours and overlapping fair times, I am actually looking forward to taking photos at fairs again next year. And, when the summer sun peaks out behind those fluffy white clouds and the corn stalks are waist high, I’ll be driving down the road with my windows rolled down on the way to take photos of a fresh round of fair kids.

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