Our Views: Visit Rock County 4-H Fair to learn about farms, food

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Gazette editorial board
July 27, 2015

People attend the Rock County 4-H Fair for many reasons.

Some go for the chance to soak in country music—and there'll be plenty of opportunity on the main stage during the fair's six-day run.

Others go to snack on traditional fare such as cream puffs, cheese curds and cotton candy.

Teenagers relish the chance to see and be seen and socialize on the midway while enjoying thrill rides and trying their luck at carnival games.

There's one more important reason, however, and it's at the center of this year's theme of “Families Make the Fair Go Round.” That's to not only celebrate but learn to better understand and appreciate the farms and farmers who produce the world's most bountiful food supply.

Think back a generation or two. That's when people raised families on farms. They milked cows or raised hogs and beef cattle. They had henhouses, collected and sold the eggs and then butchered the chickens for sale. To feed themselves, they gathered fruit from small orchards and vegetables from large gardens.

If you didn't live on a farm, you likely had relatives who farmed, or you went to visit friends whose families raised animals and crops.

That's seldom the case today. More and more people live in cities, and the number of family farms keeps dwindling. Many city residents have never been to a farm.

How, then, will their children know where their food comes from?

Sure, local farmers markets offer connections to agriculture and chances to talk to producers. Likewise, Rock County's annual pork and beef cookouts put attendees in touch with farmers.

But absent visiting a farm, attending our nation's oldest 4-H fair—one marking its 86th year—is your best annual chance to talk to farm families, support their efforts and thank them.

The Rock County Fair Board and Ag Business Council of Rock County will help those bringing kids with expanded activities at the Ag Adventure Tent. That's the place familiar for its swimming and diving ducklings, pheasant hatches and corn box—looking like a big sandbox but filled with corn.

Using ideas culled from the Walworth County Fair and a state fair association seminar, the ag tent will offer fresh and differing activities for children each day, such as being a farmer for a day, digging potatoes, picking apples and gathering eggs. Staffing the tent will be 4-H and FFA clubs, giving members chances to pass on their knowledge to young fairgoers.

But that's far from the lone place to cultivate understanding of agriculture. For example, visit the crops and garden produce exhibits in the small block building tucked in the fairgrounds' southwest corner. Sure, these might not be similar in attraction to the woodworking, rocketry and photography displays in the neighboring Craig and Blackhawk centers, but they can help your children learn what food looks like before it reaches your table.

Make sure you visit the livestock barns holding hogs, poultry, sheep, goats and cattle. Do your kids know the difference between breeds of dairy animals, much less how steers, heifers and milk cows differ? Don't hesitate to stop and ask adults or youngsters in one of those barns. They'll be happy to explain. Many are part of families who have worked the land and raised livestock for generations.

They're among those families who “make the fair go round.”

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