by Sophia Khori and Jim Boyle
The Sherburne County Fair was a hit last weekend, starting off strong with a record turnout for the National Tractor Pullers Association truck pull.
It was warm outside during the four-day event, July 20-23, but it was more cooperative than stormy ones from years past. The only significant rains came after Shenandoah’s 30th anniversary concert.
Other fair hits included food, the demolition derby, mounted shooting and performances by Great Lakes Timber Show and Dr. Silas McFee’s Magical Medicine Show.
If you visited the Sherburne County Fair, then you most likely got a glimpse of the work 4-H members have put in over the past year.
Some consider it the heart and soul of county fairs. A sampling of what 4-H members – ranging from elementary through high school – did in preparation for last weekend’s fair included raising livestock, practicing photography, perfecting recipes and programming robots.
Sherburne County 4-H program coordinator, and former longtime member, Kristen Gustafson explained how the variety of activities in the program made her eager to accept the coordinator position a year ago.
“I’ve always loved the program and the opportunities that it has with agriculture, but also with shooting sports, STEM, youth development and leadership,” Gustafson said.
Sherburne County’s 4-H club currently has almost 300 members and 60 volunteers. During outreach and recruitment, Gustafson makes it a point to explain that 4-H isn’t just an agricultural society.
“I always tell people 4-H is great because there are so many different avenues that you can take,” she said.
Not only are there options, but there is also something for students of all ages, as activities are split into different levels. This has allowed for kids like Bailey Muehlbauer, 11, to grow with the program over the past seven years that she has been a member. Muehlbauer went from showcasing crafts, photography and clothes she sewed for her stuffed animals to raising three rabbits, Chance, Oreo and Tulip.
Entering her rabbits the past few years has required more attention to detail than just having a pet.
“I have to practice with them at home, practice showing them and flipping them. And then I have to study from the rabbit Standard of Perfection for the fair for showmanship,” Muehlbauer explained.
However, even after hours of preparation and rehearsing, events can be unpredictable with live animals. In fact, Oreo recently had a mishap.
“I was showing him and he peed on the table. I put my arm on the table and he got my white shirt yellow,” Muehlbauer explained.
Events like this haven’t deterred Muehlbauer from caring for livestock; rather she is planning on raising alpacas and sheep over the next year.
To fairgoers, Gustafson recommends catching a llama show.
“Livestock shows are fun because you can learn a lot, even if you’re not involved in 4H,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson also suggests checking out the exhibit buildings at local fairs.
“That’s where we showcase all of the projects that youth have made. It’s a good way to get a snapshot of what people in your county are interested in,” she explained.
Year after year, the Sherburne County Fair is a place to showcase the talent, effort and hard work of a range of students. And according to Gustafson, it ties the community together in more than one way.
“In Sherburne County, we have a really strong home-school population. So it’s good for people in traditional school, but it’s also a really good way for home-school kids to showcase what they are learning as well,” she explained.
No matter what projects students take on or whether or not they win the highest ribbons, there are always other connections to be made and communities that can form. Along with the lessons of responsibility that have come along with raising rabbits over the years, Muehlbauer explained how 4-H has been the bridge to some strong bonds.
“I have made so many friends, I can’t even count them,” she said.
Planning for next fair underway
Some county fair volunteers are spending this weekend sampling four other county fairs, scouring for ideas.
Sherburne County Fair Board President Jenny Axelson said she and a group of others planned to attend Anoka County’s fair on July 27 and Kanabec County’s fair on July 28 and wrap up with Wright County’s fair on July 29 and the Stearns County Fair on July 30. The volunteer-led group is always looking for ideas and volunteers to help carry things out.
Photos by Erik Jacobsen and Sophia Khori