| There are three counties that lay adjacent to the Canadian border in northwestern North Dakota that share common boundaries. They are the counties of Divide, Burke, and Bottineau. Coincidentally, all three county fairs are scheduled for the same dates this year: June 14, 15, and 16.
They share more than just the commonality of location and fair dates; they represent a unique part of the country—where it is more about people, tradition, and a way of life. Unlike the more heavily populated urban areas of the country, this is a sparsely populated niche that truly depends upon one another for sustainability. To love and honor your neighbor is more than a cliché!
The county fair became a time to celebrate this union of families and neighborhoods, and showcase the wares of their toil. From that of the fastest horse to the nest linens, it was where bragging rights were earned. You could no longer insinuate that you grew the biggest pumpkin; it had to pass the scrutiny of the keenest eye of a professional judge.
Those stories of winning and losing have become folklore for generations to come. The tales become faster and bigger over the years, but the sentiment and nostalgia will linger forever. With each passing year, however, the evolution of an ever-changing world has taken its toll on the fairs. Unlike some parts of the country where the county fair continues to grow and ourish, there has been a declining population and a migration toward the bright lights of the more magnificent metropolitan areas.
Today, the county fairs in northwestern North Dakota are little more than 4-H achievement days, where the focus is totally on 4-H projects. Thanks to county extension agents and dedicated 4-H leaders, 4-H is still alive and well, but the county fair as we remember it is gone.
Gone are the days of the midway lled carnivals that ran from one end of the fairgrounds to the other, the hustle and bustle of vendors and exhibit booths, and a grandstand act being rehearsed. The sights, sounds, tastes and scents of these county fairs are unmistakably gone. No longer are there the blaring sounds of a pa- system, the aroma of a pronto-pup, or the ashing lights of a Ferris wheel. There was something magical about walking onto those fairgrounds; like being transfigured into a land of fantasy.
For one three day moment the county fair became our escape from reality. It highlighted a long awakened summer, and gave meaning and purpose to our lives. Budding romances and relationships reinvigorated—and who knows what went on behind the barns. This begs the question—do we want to give up on something that was once so special in our lives‘?
North Dakota has been reinvigorated with natural resources (wind-oil-coal-potash) bigger and more productive than any other place on the face on the earth. But what does it have to show for it, other than newfound wealth, a battered-up countryside, and a bunch of freestanding reminders of what could/should have been.
So why not channel some of this newfound wealth and energy back into the heart and soul of your communities. The county fair would be a good place to start, as the blueprint of success still exists. The county fair may be but a twinkle in the o1‘ man’s eye, but there are still a lot of old men that would like to go out ghting for a legacy that would give meaning to a lifetime of county fairs. You owe it to your kids, grand kids, and for generations to come!
As our heritage continues to get trampled down like nothing more than land ll—schools being bulldozed to the ground, towns dying, and our showcase of pride and joy (fairgrounds) growing up to weeds—could there be a greater cause than that of rejuvenating the county fair? I challenge each and every one of you to do what you can to breathe new life into your county fair—Burke-Divide-Bottineau. These three fairs in particular have perhaps suffered the most from attrition, competing metropolis, and the lifeblood of those who once dedicated their lives to this cause. Having personally experienced life in several different sectors of the country, I can attest to the fact that there is no place on the face of the earth where the lifeblood and character of the community is so deeply rooted. The dirt may not be as black or the summers as long as in other parts of the country, but just as the God-given natural resources run deep—deep is the connection of man in this part of the country.
The county fair in the only real lifeline left in Burke-Divide-Bottineau counties. So let us not pass up the opportunity to pay homage to our ancestors and give renewed hope to those who have never experienced what you and I take for granted. For those of us who actually lived at the fairgrounds – preparing for the fair and cleaning up afterwards—it was a rite of passage to make such a major contribution to the community. The rewards were many—from grand champion steers to winning horse races, but it was the intangible exhilarating experiences that have impacted my life forever.
This column is dedicated to the county extension agents of Burke-Dan Folske, Divide-Keith Brown, and Bottineau-James Kapp who have worked tirelessly to sustain their respective fairs. Their dedication to 4-H is especially recognized, for it seems to be the only saving grace for the status of their current fairs. Let’s get behind these county agents in support of their efforts to bring these fairs back to what they once were.
read also: The 4-H Market Steer Auction
PONY TALES by PONTY: more insightful stories written by Ken Knight
Ken E. Knight is the author of the “Knightro Report”, a nationally syndicated livestock-marketing column, which is featured in this publication on a regular basis. Mr. Knight is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a major BS Degree in Meat and Animal Science and a minor in Communications. In addition to being a professional auctioneer, public speaker and livestock judge, he brings many years of corporate level meat and livestock market management and expertise to the industry for which he now serves as an independent voice of shared knowledge and experience.
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For more in-depth information regarding the topics that have been touched upon in this report, Knightro conducts livestock marketing seminars on a regular basis. To schedule a seminar, auction, judging, or speaking engagement, please contact Ken Knight, Knightro, W11911 County Road FF, River Falls, WI 54022, phone toll free 1-877-KNIGTRO, phone 715-262-8480, fax 715-262-8480, e-mail [email protected]t; or contact the Midwest Farm & Livestock Directory at [email protected].