Bright lights, carnival rides, games, music and revelry mark the apex of summer, as the Teton County Fair returns for 2021.
And yet it’s the in the quiet of the fairgrounds, in the exhibit halls and barns, in the stalls and circling the dusty arena, that a year’s worth of hard work, early mornings, unseen efforts and quiet community engagement outshines the Ferris wheel and lays the foundational definition of community.
This is 4-H.
Teton County 4-H and the Teton County Fair’s Blue Ribbon exhibit hall are the traditional backbones of fair week. Showcasing the bounty of the Tetons, the craftsmanship of neighbors and the agricultural traditions of the West, they are major parts of the fair that should never be overlooked.
“It’s truly a family affair,” Erika Edmiston said of the 4-H program. Her own children, Jack and Maslyn, have been raising livestock for years. “The kids love going to the fair and presenting the projects that they have worked on. It’s a great way to see them shine and open up about what they are excited about it.”
Edmiston said 4-H provides an important connection between the Jackson community and the county’s agricultural history — especially in the midst of dramatic changes taking place throughout the Teton region. She acknowledged that not every family has the space or the opportunity to raise and work with livestock, but the emphasis on leadership and growth remain consistent through all of 4-H’s programs.
The Civic Club, for example, doesn’t require a stall for cows, pigs or goats.
Focus on volunteering
Led by Adria Stines, the club focuses on volunteer work, from the local level through the international level, supporting organizations and initiatives that lift others. Some of the projects the group has lent a hand to include collecting seeds for Grand Teton National Park re-seeding projects, volunteering and fundraising for the Ronald McDonald House in Salt Lake City, working with the Senior Center of Jackson Hole and town clean-up projects.
Stines said the work is not always fun, but students learn lessons in empathy and care. She has seen youngsters use their Civic Club experiences to write college admission essays.
“Some kids are super motivated and driven,” she said. “And then you have some of them who are slogging along and they do not think volunteering is awesome. Volunteering isn’t always fun. ... One year we insulated a Habitat for Humanity house and it was itchy. But looking back, students have said, ‘Wow, we helped a family get into a house.’ And that only works to make you a better, more well-rounded person.”
Groups like the Civic Club will display their work in the Blue Ribbon Hall, Stines said. They will create posters and artwork showing what they accomplished through the year. Some will create work that will show what they hope to accomplish in the coming year.
“There was a lot a lot of interest this year as things opened back up,” Teton County 4-H Coordinator Glenn Owings said of the pandemic that disrupted many 4-H programs last year. “This year we have seen some of the highest participation in the 4-H program with some of the most diverse projects, which speaks to the volunteers that we have.”
Teton County’s 4-H program offers dozens of such clubs and classes to cater to a variety of interests, and many result in entries in the Teton County Fair.
Edmiston notes that students are more than happy to talk about their projects with the people who come to the Exhibit Hall or Heritage Arena for a look-see.
“When my kids were too little to be in 4-H, we would go into the livestock arena and I was always too intimated to ask the students questions,” she said. “We would look at the animals and then come right back out. I have learned through 4-H that kids want you to talk to them. That’s a big part of the whole program. A lot of them are just hanging out and waiting for you to ask about their projects. Don’t worry, you’re not bothering anyone when you engage with them.”
New traditions emerge
“We feel like we have been planning this fair for two years,” said Rachel Grimes, Teton County Fair and Fairgrounds manager. “We had this fair planned for 2020, then the pandemic hit. Thankfully, a lot of our contractors were kind enough to roll the 2020 contracts over.”
Grimes said this year’s fair will feel pared down compared to what the public had come to expect before COVID-19. Some of the free events — such as the petting zoo, the All Aboard train tour, the paintball events — will not be at this year’s fair. Due to scheduling conflicts, pig wrestling, a perennial crowd pleaser, was cancelled as well.
But never fear, said Grimes, some cancellations helped make way for new events and programming, like the Teton County Centennial celebration, taking place at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 31, under the Big Top Tent. Teton County marks the 100th year of incorporation with live music from the almost equally historic Stagecoach Band and, of course, cake.
And plenty of favorites from years past will be back. Evening events this year include the Bev Halpin Memorial Team Branding event on Thursday, July 29, the Fair Rodeo on Saturday, July 30, and the Figure 8 races on Sunday, Aug. 1, all in the rodeo arena. The beer garden opens at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 29, with the taps open through Saturday, July 31; live music will start at 5 p.m. each day; the pie eating contest, diaper derby, sack races and more start at 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1; and of course, the 4-H livestock sale, the culmination of so many valley students’ work, starts at 5 p.m. Friday, July 30.
“The great thing about this sale is a lot of the animals that are purchased are donated back to local nonprofits in town like the senior center, churches and food banks,” Owings said.