This will be my 16th fair as part of CSU Extension here in La Plata County. I could make a funny comment about “that’s a lot of turkey legs and funnel cake,” but to be honest, I do not think that I have either of those.
But I have seen my fair share (see what I did there?) of carnival tickets, ear tags for livestock, bags of political popcorn, matching 4-H T-shirts and blue ribbons galore. Come the last Friday and Saturday of fair, you will see smiling faces of proud children who completed their projects or succeeded in showing their animal in front of hundreds of people; and you will see tired eyes and shuffling feet from the parents of those same kids. Hustling kids, and animals, and cakes to and fro, making sure pigtails are tight, jeans are pressed and project books are edited correctly.
In my world, from Aug. 9 to Aug. 14, I tend to relegate myself to the periphery, focusing on the flowers and vegetables, which brighten up (or slowly rot, depending on your perspective for the day) the Horticulture Room, upstairs above the Exhibit Hall. Most years we receive close to 300 entries – everything from six wilted carrots, to a prized dahlia, to unripened apples, to fairy gardens.
We keep it cool so plants do not wilt too quickly, but also to entice the overheated grandparents (and grandchildren) who have gone from the livestock arena, to the rides, to the ducks going down the slide, and end up back in the Exhibit Hall to check out the blue and red ribbons on the art entries.
However, flowers are definitely not the focus of the fair. It is the kids in matching T-shirts, showcasing the last year of their hard work. They know that summer is coming to an end, as school starts just a couple of weeks later. This is their last opportunity to hang out with their friends from across the county, slipping away from responsibilities and parents for a couple of minutes.
In my office, it is also a celebration of our 4-H office. Angela Fountain has worked tirelessly to bring youth enrollment up to more than 300 kids. She has taken them to leadership conferences, exchange trips to Pennsylvania, and offered multiple weeks of day camps and project weeks. I tip my hat to her and her volunteers, and our entire staff at the Extension office.
I invite you to come down, check out the skills of our youths, grab some food that is not typically part of your diet (or better yet, attend the 4-H barbecue Aug. 13), and find a flower that you want to plant next year. Yes, you will get frustrated with the lack of parking, and there is the off chance that if you aren’t paying attention in the arena you may step in something that comes home with you and your shoe (flip-flops discouraged).
The fair is a celebration of community and a culmination of hard work smack dab in the middle of Durango. It is a juxtaposition of La Plata County itself: the rural-urban interface, with livestock trailers trying to navigate through tourists, bike riders and trolleys. And for many of us, we could not imagine it any other way.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at email@example.com or 382-6464.