It was wet and cold when I woke up in Brookville, OH, on the outskirts of Dayton Friday morning, so I waited out the bank of clouds in the library and got on the road for perhaps the best half hour of biking of my life. The wind was at my back, I was on a beautifully paved rails-to-trails path through cornfields, and the morning showers meant everything smelled fresh of autumn.
I reached the edge of Dayton, and the bike path disappeared. I asked at the gas station on the corner, and they finally realized that what I was asking about was the wide sidewalk along the side of the road “right through the ghetto.” It was pretty neglected, but it did get me downtown to the river.
For the last day or two, I’d been passing signs for the Montgomery County Fair, and I was excited to visit. I’d thought the Fairbury fair was impressive, but it was nothing compared to Dayton’s – beautiful old white barns reminiscent of Walker Evans photos, countless booths selling fried foods of every kind, and hilarious rides that make my stomach turn just imagining.
The best part, though, was the 4-H show goat judging – the setting was one of the most beautiful barns at the fair, with bleachers on two sides and pens of goats, sheep, and llamas in the back. Kids of all ages dragged stubborn goats out in the ring, and a critical, nurturing older man with a magnificent mustache and hat silently inspected all of the animals as the poor kids struggled to hold onto the stubborn goats.
You urbanites may have the same questions Dad and I did – what is 4-H? Google to the rescue, and the 4-H website tells us a bit of history:
The seed of the 4-H idea of practical and “hands-on” learning came from the desire to make public school education more connected to country life. Early programs tied both public and private resources together for the purpose of helping rural youth […] Adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural discoveries. But, educators found that youth would “experiment” with these new ideas and then share their experiences and successes with the adults. So rural youth programs became a way to introduce new agriculture technology to the adults. […] A.B. Graham started one such youth program in Ohio in 1902. It is considered the birth of the 4-H program in the U.S. […] 4-H has as its goal the four-fold development of youth: Head, Heart, Hands and Health.
But the goats were just the beginning. We went on to feed some of the laziest pigs I have ever encountered, watch the hair on cows’ behinds get blown around by fans as they watched the wooden walls of their pens, and listened to a barn full of poultry crow and gobble and squawk endlessly.
Highlight of the poultry barn? Easily and confidently, Dad and I both agree it was the chick incubator WITH a merry-go-round. No kidding. Check this out:
And then, as if the day couldn’t get any better, we had delicious BBQ for dinner and went to the Dayton Dragons minor league baseball game in Dayton’s fantastic downtown.