Summer is a time for beaches, trips, dinners in the backyard, stoop sitting, neighborhood festivals, light reading…and oh yeah, county fairs. Since I have spent my entire life as a city dweller, my summers were filled with time on a skateboard, not on a farm with the 4-H Club.
So when I had the opportunity to check out my first-ever fair, I was a little more than curious. The Chicago Flower & Garden Show had a group of gardens at the Lake County Fair, and we wanted to go and show support for one of our favorite clients. I hopped in the car with my three-year-old son, and we drove the hour to a place called Grayslake. We both were so excited about going I think we arrived a little too early—no rides were on and no booths were open to serve sugary goodness.
We paid our way (three-year-olds get in free) and headed right for the Chicago Flower & Garden Show exhibit. With outdoor displays featuring water gardens, koi fish ponds, brick pizza ovens, grills and gazebos, the exhibit really showed some great ideas for large and small budgets. Although my son’s favorite part was the chicken coop. The exhibit got us both excited for next spring’s show at Navy Pier.
Having gotten our garden inspiration, the big question loomed: what do you do at a county fair? I’ve been to carnivals, so I know to stay very clear of the make-me-go-puke carny rides— but what else do you do?
I quickly learned the action lies with the 4-H Club. I went up to someone wearing one of those green 4-H shirts and asked what I was supposed to be doing. Nothing like the look you get when you ask what to do at a county fair. (The look was similar to the expression, “What planet have you been living on?”)
After she got over her shock, the very nice 4-H girl showed us all the animals available for petting and gawking. “You can start by petting these bunnies,” she said. So we got acquainted with some friendly fair bunnies, and then explored the rest of the fair menagerie.
I will admit that there have been plenty of times I have gotten a laugh at the expense of rural folk in the big city, so this was payback time for farm families to laugh right back at me. Countless “wows” and “oh man” were blurted out of our mouths when standing next to cows, chickens, sheep, pigs (so many pigs), horses and bunnies. I heard more than one person whisper, “Haven’t they ever seen a pig before?” We were out of our element—and having a fantastic time. There is nothing like learning how to make your own rope or how to start up a tractor. Plus no matter who you are, being able to pet a 4-month-old calf for the first time is very memorable.
Since the carnival rides still weren’t open that seemed to leave only one major player left—food. Fair food. Grease + sugar = fair food. Elephant ears, corndogs, snow cones, popcorn, lemonade, funnel cake, caramel apples and my son’s first-ever taste of cotton candy. There is like some fair motto that states, “If you fry it, they will come.” From my first glance— it seems to be working.
After a few hours that seemed to fly by, it was time to head back to Chicago. I learned to embrace the fair (as well as a pink bottle of Pepto to combat that fair food) for all it had to offer and show me. The only regret was when we were leaving there was an announcement that the 4-H Fashion Show was starting in 20 minutes. So tempting…probably should’ve stayed.
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