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10 Reasons We Love the County Fair
            Story by Samantha Johnson
  It’s summer, and that means the days are long, the corn is knee-high, the zucchini is growing like crazy, and the hay bales are stacked in the barn. It’s the season of lemonade, lawn mowing, and laughter. And it’s the season for county fairs!

County fairs are an iconic piece of Americana that have a rich history stretching back over several centuries. People embrace county fairs as an opportunity to set the rest of life aside and delve into the sights, sounds, and feelings that combine to create an experience that is unquestionably unique, while at the same time timeless and familiar, no matter where you are.

So this summer, get swept away in the atmosphere of fun and exhilaration that characterizes the county fair. There are too many highlights of these jubilant celebrations to possibly name them all, but here are ten of the top reasons we all love county fairs.

1. Tradition
In many ways, the county fair is a lot like Christmas. It comes only once a year, requires extensive advance preparation, is followed by a boisterous burst of gaiety and frivolity, and then it ends and life returns to normal. And, like any other holiday, the county fair is filled with family traditions that must be observed. Maybe you always watch the judging of the exhibits in the morning, then take the kids to hop on their favorite rides in the afternoon. Maybe you spend the evening roaming the gaily lit carnival and top off the night with a ride on the Ferris wheel. Maybe you all split up at the gate and only see each other briefly as you rush from one overpriced-but-exhilarating carnival game to the next. But whatever the tradition, the excitement and fun are always at the foundation.

In addition to specific family traditions, county fairs also represent the best of farming heritage and tradition. They honor the years of hard work and dedication that developed the towns and farms of the county, and even more than that—they honor the rural way of life.

2. Camaraderie
County fairs unite people. Friends and neighbors come together for a few days of carnival rides, competitions, food, and fun. If you attend the same county fair each year, it even starts to become a reunion of sorts—an annual gathering of the community clan—with the same exhibitors, judges, and fair officials all coming together year after year. You might catch up with some old friends that you don’t see every day and have a chance to chat while absorbing the atmosphere of the fair, or you might find new friends among the exhibitors in the vegetable department or in the rabbit barn. You never know!



3. Competition
The stakes—in general—are low: You might win $3 for exhibiting a first place slice of pumpkin pie or hand-knit sweater, but the prestige that accompanies that humble blue ribbon goes a lot deeper than you might think. Gardeners coax reluctant flowers to grow and thrive so they might take them to the fair and "top Velma Smith’s entry,” while amateur shutterbugs hone their craft in an effort to snag the blue ribbon in a class for “black-and-white waterfall photography.” To anyone else, these competitions may seem like microscopic ripples in the lake of life, but to the green-thumbed exhibitor who has worked over her rugosa roses all season, the competition is a pinnacle.

4. Livestock
Whether you’re exhibiting your own livestock or simply admiring all the animals, livestock shows are a definite highlight of any county fair. By strolling through the various livestock buildings and show rings, you can expect to encounter all kinds of animals ranging from horses and cows to rabbit and chickens and goats and sheep. It’s a great chance to see and learn about breeds with which you might not be familiar, as well as a chance to see premium examples of livestock in all their show-ring glory.

5. Food
At the county fair, you can find an assortment of foods that are unlike those you can find anywhere else—at least not easily. Mounds of cotton candy in colors not naturally found in food? Bring it on. Lollipops as big as your five-year-old’s face? Oh, yeah. Deep-fried delights? Yes, please! A fair is not the place to try to keep to a strict diet, or even eat in a remotely healthy style, but after all, it’s only for a day or two, and it just wouldn’t be fair if you didn’t sample some of the available fare.

6. Carnival Rides
Perhaps no aspect of a county fair is as iconic as the carnival rides. With their flashing lights and loud, cheerful music, they set the stage for the event and lend a whimsical backdrop to counterbalance all the hard work and effort that goes on before and during the fair. Carnival rides give the young and young-at-heart a chance to step into a world of pure bliss and exhilaration as they swing around the merry-go-round and ascend the heights of the Ferris wheel.

7. Youth
At every county fair, you will find many young 4-H and FFA members intent on doing their best, wearing numbers pinned to their crisply ironed shirts, and running from stall to stall in the livestock barns readying their bovine, equine, or even caprine entries for the show ring. It’s gratifying to watch these youngsters who have worked all year for this day and are ready to parade in front of the judges with their well-groomed projects. They’re learning about showmanship, sportsmanship, and agriculture all at the same time, and that’s a priceless award of its own.

8. Judging
Everyone gets a thrill out of watching the judging of exhibits. The excitement is palpable and the atmosphere so competitive that you have to give the judges respect for the skill it requires to weed the winning exhibits from those that are less than successful. These men and women know how to handle the competitions and the competitors, both of which can become pretty intense at times. Of course, the judges also get a thrill of their own, for they are the ones who get to divvy up the precious blue ribbons to the well-deserving recipients.

9. Change of pace
Summer on the farm can fall into a rhythmic routine. Days flow in a methodical cadence that is interrupted only by the intermittent sound of hay balers clanking if the sun shines. But then the fair blows in with all of its tradition and glory, andresponsible farm families find themselves bucking their methodically-arranged schedules and replacing them with a momentary burst of spontaneity. Ride the Tilt-a-Whirl at 3 p.m.? Why not? Eat ice cream and popcorn for supper? Who’s going to stop us? The fair is the farm family’s equivalent of kicking up their heels and having a good time.

10. Exhibits
There’s so much to see! There are posters and exhibits made by 4-H members, countless colored sketches created by elementary school students, photography exhibits, untold rows of vegetables, flowers, and exotic plants, woodcraft products, maple syrup, honey, oil paintings, handmade purses, jams, jellies, and a dazzling array of baked goods—all lovingly created with the goal of winning a prize at the county fair. It's easy to see the passion and effort that goes into each creation, and win or lose, you know the contestants have prepared an exhibit of which they can be proud.

About the author
Samantha Johnson is the author of several books, including The Beginner’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, (Voyageur Press, 2013). She writes frequently about pets, gardening, and farm life. View more of Samantha’s work at

"This article originally appeared in AcreageLife magazine ( Used with permission."