It was about 6:30 on Saturday night last week when my wife and I drove past the Brown County Fair Grounds on the way home from an out-of-town trip.
I thought to myself that it wouldn’t be long before the calm situation there would become totally different.
A few pickups were parked outside the fair barns, a scene that’s quite a contrast to the activity the complex along the Brady Highway is experiencing now. A lot of hard work had already been accomplished in recent weeks to prepare for the Brown County Youth Fair, and the big show was about to get underway.
The next day, on Sunday afternoon, it began. By Wednesday, as the Brownwood Bulletin’s front page proclaimed, activities were at “full throttle.” It all comes to a climax today and Saturday.
While the rest of us were enjoying our Christmas vacations, hundreds of local young people were working hard to prepare for this week’s Brown County Youth Fair. That’s the way local youngsters have spent the holiday season for several generations. It’s also the way dozens of adult volunteers in our community have started each new year.
But none of them can afford to wait until the week of Christmas to start the process. Preparation must, and does, begin many months in advance.
Whether Brown County youngsters enter projects in the livestock, home economics, or ag mechanics divisions, preparation and participation become all-encompassing endeavors in the weeks and months prior. There’s a special satisfaction not only in winning a ribbon or trophy, but also in learning and competing against your peers.
The Youth Fair Barns become almost a community to itself for one week each January, with entire families devoting several days to the event. If you’ve never experienced that environment, if you’ve never been involved, you’ve missed an important part of what it means to be a resident of Brown County.
Having been a member of this newspaper’s staff during many of those Januarys since 1970, I appreciate the dedicated efforts members of all media put forth to document what happens. Getting the results — the first, second, and third place names in countless numbers of categories — is only part of the coverage. Each young person who undertakes the effort required to bring an entry to the Youth Fair has a tale to tell. It’s impossible to report on all the human-interest stories out there, but they unfold continuously. They are what I remember most from being involved in covering the Youth Fair.
The Youth Fair is also a treasure trove for observant photographers. Even those who don’t know much about agriculture can relate to poignant images of youngsters doing their best to present their entries. Some of the best photographs are found outside of the judging arena as adults, young people, and the animals wait for their time in the show ring.
Certainly, there are educational benefits for planning and working toward a successful project, but there are also tangible rewards.
One supporter told me years ago that the primary reason he was so dedicated to the Brown County Fair Association and the Brown County Youth Fair was because involvement is a major way adults in the community — individuals and businesses — can directly reward local youngsters for their hard work and help them prepare for additional education after graduation from high school.
But offering the high bids at the premium sale is not the only way supporters help.
The Youth Fair has benefited from several generations of loyal volunteers, many of whom use their vacation days to assist at the Fair Barns. Many, perhaps most, of those volunteers had shown their own entries years ago when they were youngsters themselves, and they are handing down the tradition to the next generation, just as it was handed down to them.
Go see for yourself. Plan to be a part of this week’s Brown County Youth Fair however you can. Our community and its future leaders will be better because of it.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.