Once a 4-H’er, always a 4-H’er

Writer’s note: February is 4-H Month in Nebraska, a time when 4-H’ers wear their shamrock T-shirts and celebrate the joys of 4-H. In honor of the month, I’m taking a moment to reflect on some of my own 4-H experiences.

As a 4-H’er, I didn’t have livestock.

I had a rabbit and a dog but neither one of those was going to the fair for various reasons.
First, I don’t even know if my county had dog competitions back then and my rabbit was not show friendly.

So I was stuck in the exhibitors building with the muffins and cakes, the photography, the sewing projects and grandma’s sewing table that someone had restored.

And believe me, I loved all that.

I took pride in my heritage and photography projects and even had a few cooking projects earn me purple ribbons through the years.

Yet, there were days I longed to be with my friends sitting out in their stinky and rickety old cattle barns where they would basically live for a week’s time.

My friend Matt and his family would move to the fairgrounds for the week, parking their camper just outside the doors of the cattle barn.

When they weren’t showing animals in the ring, the family would sit on coolers and lawn chairs under the huge fans that swirled the steamy and stinky air around the old building.
I have allergies and my body doesn’t think hot weather is too great, but I loved to hang out with Matt and his family.

My friends and I would take any time we could to sneak over to the fair edge of the fairgrounds and sit in the old barn with our friends and laugh.

I was oftentimes jealous that Matt was so busy during fair week participating in events and hanging out with the animals that earned him a slew of purple ribbons.

Those memories all came back to me last weekend as I attended the Bull Bonanza in downtown Edgar.

The village shut down a block of its main street to allow some local cattlemen to show off their bulls, maybe make a few sales and educate the public.

The cattle owners were all in their coveralls and Carhartt jackets standing around talking about the drought, grain prices and the shutdown of so many ethanol plants that provide them with distillers grain.

I didn’t know any of the people and they weren’t competing for a ribbon but it reminded me of those days at the county fair.

As I talked to the producers young and old, many of them said their careers in livestock started years ago when they were in 4-H.

I imagined those people like me and my friends, young and carefree as they sat around in the livestock buildings listening to their favorite songs on the radio, reading a book or simply taking a nap.

That’s what my friends and I did in the cattle barn and I’ve seen it a dozen times over at the Adams County FairFest so I know it’s a common occurrence.

And I know how valuable those few minutes of rest are for those 4-H’ers between performing in the ring or washing their animals before the next event.

For the 4-H’ers whose exhibits all end up in the 4-H building on display, fair week is a time to relax and reflect on how much work it took even if you earned a blue or red ribbon.

It’s all about learning for the future.

Some of those 4-H’ers might become chefs, photographers or even own their own livestock farms someday and 4-H is preparing them for that future.

I never had animals in the county fair and I may not spend my days wearing rubber boots to take care of my animals but I felt a connection to those livestock producers at the Bull Bonanza.

I knew I could relate to those people a little bit knowing that their lives and mine, our careers and livelihoods were all impacted by the experiences we had in 4-H.

Shay Burk

Veteran Tribune reporter Shay Burk writes whatever is swirling around her mind each week. Read her columns on Tuesdays for her humorous thoughts on everyday life.

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