The Year the City Slickers Took Their Chickens to the Fair

One fun annual tradition we started a couple of years ago is to enter items in the Spokane County Fair, mostly veggies from the garden. I remember visting the Puyallup fair growing up, and walking through the displays of animals and agriculture and eating a pile of raspberry jam smothered scones. (By the way, why don’t we have those at the Spokane County fair?) But I had no experience as a participant. It was always something other people did who lived very different lives from mine.

This move from observer to participant has been a real highlight for us in the Fall. Last year the girls got second place in the giant pumpkin contest and second place in the tallest sunflower contest. And we’ll never forget claiming the coveted Grand Champion Rutabaga ribbon.

This year we took it to a whole new level and the girls and neighborhood friends who have a stake in the coop entered our five chickens in the Spokane County Fair. Last Thursday we rounded up our brood, (it took about 45 minutes to run them down and box them up), and rolled into the exhibitors parking lot of the fair ground, nervous that someone would correctly identify us as being terribly out of place and tell us to go home. We parked our poultry stuffed mini van next to all the farm-worn trucks and put our birds in their assigned cages. One of the older students really saved the day in helping us get settled in. We returned on Friday for a lesson on how to show the birds for the judges on Saturday.

In a real surprise we showed up Saturday and discovered that Cheesy, Lily’s Buff Orpington, was on champions row, boasting best of class and best of breed ribbons and Zeina’s Golden Laced Wyandotte won “reserve” best of breed and best of class. Everyone got blue first place stickers. And then it was time for showing.

Lily was first up and you can see from the picture of smallish birds next to the towering Cheesy, that if it was a version of cock fighting we would have had the advantage. But this was about knowledge and the craft of displaying chickens, and with every other child drawing on experience as part of 4-H or FFA, we were our of our depth to say the least. I had been coaching soccer all morning so I instinctively yelled out instructions to Lily in the middle of the showing. The judge gently reprimanded me. I'm not up on chicken show etiquette, but I'm guessing that trash talking the ump isn't OK, so I refrained from any more coaching. All the kids received blue ribbons and really learned a lot from the experience. Thanks to all the mentors and leaders who help make these kinds of events possible.

I think the fair is one of the best things going for young people. It gives them a chance to recognize that they are not just observers of their environment, but they are participants in it. They are not powerless observers of food systems, they are powerful shapers of them. I think County fairs are one of the great untapped resources for engaging issues of the environment and food systems. I can see the way that the Fair is shaping my children as responsible participants in the environment, and they love the Mutton Busting and riding the Zipper too.