John Lawrence’s message from July 17, 2017
Picture this: a summer day, hot and humid, with no discernable breeze. Do you know where your county extension professionals are? On any given day between mid-June and mid-September, they can be found at their county fairgrounds. That’s not surprising, since the Association of Iowa Fairs membership includes 106 Iowa county and district fairs plus local festivals and related activities. Our partnership with county fairs is part of our history and tradition. R.K. Bliss wrote that “from the first the Extension Service was called upon to give help to fairs during the fair season … The principal contribution of extension to fairs in the early years of the Extension Service was to make them more educational.” Our county fair contribution continues, as we provide education and build partnerships to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.
4-H Youth Program Specialist Mitch Hoyer probably has lost track of how many times he’s heard fairgoers say, “I didn’t know you could do that in 4-H!” (He’s superintendent of the 4-H Exhibits Building at the Iowa State Fair.) Iowa 4-H’ers’ fair exhibits represent the broad scope of our 4-H Youth Development program, covering animals, ag and natural resources, creative arts, family and consumer sciences, personal development and STEM. 4-H youth also participate in communication events, educational presentations and working exhibits. 4-H at the fair is far more than cows and cooking, though there are plenty of these exhibits too. The Association of Iowa Fairs gathers statistics from the financial reports that all fairs are required to file. For 2016, did you know?
- 17,139 4-H and FFA livestock exhibitors brought 70,311 livestock entries to their county fairs.
- 14,885 4-H and FFA building exhibitors showed 66,814 exhibits.
- 4-H/FFA premiums totaled $533,324.
However, more important than the money, ribbons and competition, is the education that occurs. Fairs give 4-H’ers an opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned. The evaluation they receive helps them measure their progress toward meeting their goals and against standards of excellence. They also gain encouragement and inspiration to expand their project interest and activity. In addition, their families get to work together and the public gets to see what it means to be involved in 4-H. The whole county fair experience is one more way 4-H meets the needs of Iowa youth.
County Fair Memorandum of Understanding
Our county extension councils have great partnerships with Iowa’s county fair boards. About 60 counties even have a written, signed MOU that lists each group’s responsibilities for making their fair successful. That’s a great idea that we’d like to expand statewide. So we’ve started a committee with representation from fair boards, FFA, and ISU Extension and Outreach. They’re thinking about the key aspects that make a great fair and developing a template that other counties can use to write their own MOUs. We hope to have a draft ready for extension councils and fair boards to review this fall, with a finished template available in December.
With turnover on county fair boards, within FFA programs and in our county extension offices, it makes sense to capture some county fair best practices and get them down in writing. If you have any insights you’d like to share, please contact a regional director, Bob Dodds or yours truly.
One more thing: The Black Hawk, Polk and Jefferson County Extension Councils are partnering with College of Human Sciences researchers in the next round of the Engaged Scholarship Funding Program. It’s a great opportunity for councils to invest in new research with Iowa State and partner with ISU Extension and Outreach to bring educational programs to county residents.
— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach