Funnel cakes, cotton candy, and snow cones. . . these are all smells that make me happy. Would it surprise you if I said the same of the aroma of pig poop, because it’s true! That ammonia-ladened, nostril-infiltration odor brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my heart. No, I don’t have this fragrance in a perfume, although I often smell like this, and I don’t particularly enjoy it, but the memories associated with this pungent aroma are some of the best I have.

Before you begin feeling sorry for me or call in a psychiatric team to do an intervention, let me explain. Across Nebraska, this is what is known as COUNTY FAIR WEEK, which is what brings these memories to the forefront of my mind. Although these events occur any time between the beginning of July and the end of August, they are similar in their nature. Kids usually between the ages of 5 and 18 spend their summer working with livestock, making projects, baking and sewing all of which culminates in a single week. Hours of hard work, sweat, tears, more sweat, failed recipes, ripped out seams, and even more tears and sweat finally pay off in the arena, judging hall, or runway.

I always loved 4-H, especially my pigs. You see, what most people don’t know is that swine actually have personalities, much like dogs or cats. They are fairly easy to show, require little grooming, and eat pretty much anything you feed them. My “success” in the show ring was mostly just in showmanship because I only showed pigs my dad raised as market hogs, and they were nothing special. However, the ribbons didn’t matter. It was the camaraderie I developed with the other swine kids that made the hog barn my favorite place at the fair. Water fights at the wash racks, early morning chores, and even napping with our pigs as our pillows were some of the highlights.

Now I have my own kids in 4-H, and I love it even more. The strong work ethic they develop, the cooperative skills they learn, and the value of a well-earned reward are just a few of the benefits. Listening to the boys discuss who gets to show which pig, watching them schedule time to do chores in between their other activities, and seeing them work together as a team makes me a proud mamma. As a 4-H volunteer, I love watching kids be successful. There is such a variety of project possibilities, that you can find your strength no matter what your skill area.

If you are fortunate enough to attend a 4-H event this summer, look beyond the ribbon. Know that behind that ribbon, whether it is a Grand Champion Rosette or a last place red, are hours of bonding with Grandma over the sewing machine, sweat on 100° plus days working with animals, life-time friendships made through teamwork, and the development of skills and a work ethic that create young adults who strive to “Make the Best Better.”

Kristi Bose

Kristi Bose teaches English and drama at Southern Valley High School in South Central Nebraska. She and her husband Michael have four boys ages four to fifteen. They live in the country where they raise show pigs, a small cattle herd, and a few goats. She enjoys fishing in the river behind their house, reading, traveling and spending time with her family.