Paraphrasing the lyrics of a Broadway show tune from a bygone era, our county fair is a great county fair. It’s the best county fair in our state.
And well it should be, considering the fair is entering its 50th year.
The first fair was held in 1970 at the Gila County Fairgrounds, located north of Globe on Highway 60, which, at the time, was equipped with only a grandstand, some old wooden horse corrals and a racetrack.
Now, the local fairgrounds boasts a rodeo arena, multiple exhibit halls, a go-cart track and an RV park.
What is arguably one of the fair’s greatest attractions, however, are the local 4-H groups. The fair includes demonstrations, animal shows, displays, an animal auction and items sold by local 4-H clubs.
When you go to next month’s fair, be sure to look for some local kids who work very hard all year long making sure their animals are in good health and look their best.
Karen Donaldson, of Miami, has been involved with 4-H in Southern Gila County for 10 years. She explains that Gila County has three 4-H communities. The club in Globe-Miami is known as Southern Gila County 4-H.
While all the county 4-H clubs are welcome to participate in the Globe fair, sometimes they hold their own fairs.
Donaldson is the group leader for “We’re Those Kids,” which markets goats and lambs, wool sheep and dairy goats and also creates fiber crafts from the excess wool.
“It has been a wonderful opportunity to work with these kids and to watch them grow in their project skills and sense of responsibility,” she said.
We’re Those Kids is a 13-member group, and, as 4-H members they are required to participate in the county fair. There are 198 youths and 44 adults in 4-H in Gila County, Donaldson said.
Throughout her own childhood in Maricopa County, Donaldson did horse, dog and rabbit projects.
“I was in 4-H as a kid and I’m glad I can give some of that back, helping these kids reach their goals,” she said. “4-H really is a program to help kids develop personally, socially and to grow as future leaders.”
At a recent meeting of the Gila Hoppers, its group leader Jenni Steveson, of Miami, said they are currently preparing for the fair.
“Participation in the county fair is the apex of our year,” Donaldson explained. “Especially since our fair is in the fall with registration for the new year following right after.”
She talked about the process of getting the animals ready for the fair.
“Steer kids may get their animals in December; pigs, goats and lambs in April-May, no later than June 1,” Donaldson said. “Rabbit, cavy and poultry have their animals year round, as do wool sheep and members with breeding stock.
“Large livestock kids should spend an hour a day with their animal. Some spend more, some less. That includes feeding and maintenance. Some kids spend that walking their animal,” she said. “We have sheep, goats, horses, poultry and rabbits and it takes almost two hours a day just to feed.”
“It’s a pretty big commitment,” Donaldson adds.
Fourteen-year-old Tabitha Owens, who was been in 4-H for six years, raises rabbits and goats and is looking forward to getting her own steer next year.
“You have to wash them, trim their nails and clean their ears. You have to make sure you have clean goats,” she said. “The judges also look for how you control them and how you handle your goat.”
Owens, who said the word goat stands for “greatest of all time” also talked about getting her rabbits fair-ready. “We groom them, clip their toenails and make sure they’re tattooed (for identification),” she explained.
Sarah Schaible, 16, has spent six years in 4-H, agreed, adding, “You do lots of brushing, especially if you have a thick rabbits like Angoras and Lionheads.”
Schaible also talked about the importance of proper nutrition.
“They should have pellets and hay (alfafa),” she said.
Ten-year-old Madison Smith, who has been in 4-H two years and raises cavies, said that they must also check their animals for bugs and diseases and defects such as lazy eyes or overbite.
Smith chose to raise cavies—more commonly known as guinea pigs—after visiting the fair to see her friend and fellow 4-H’er, 11-year-old Olivia Martinez.
“I went to the fair and picked out a guinea pig,” Smith said. “I love 4-H. I want to do it every year.”
For these youngsters, preparation for the fair is a year-round commitment.
“Two or three weeks after the fair, we start again,” said Schaible, with Steveson adding, “Our club meets all year round.”
Like Donaldson, Steveson is a former 4-H kid herself who has been a group leader for 16 years now. The Gila Hoppers’s group has 15 youth.
“All year we work together and they are working individually in whatever their project area is, knowing we will share it all at the fair,” Donaldson said. “When the fair rolls around, ready or not, here we go. It is a crazy four to five days of display, demonstration, community service and fun—lots of fun.”
Once the fair begins, the kids with livestock are there everyday, caring for their animals and getting ready for their shows, she said.
“For some of them there is an auction on Sunday when they will have the chance to earn some money back, which is usually used to finance next year’s project. The older kids are raising money for college,” Donaldson said. ”It’s great to see them succeed here and wonderful to see the community support their efforts.”
The 50th annual Gila County Fair will be held Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 19-22, at the Gila County Fairgrounds, 900 Fairgrounds Rd., in Globe. For more information, go to www.gilacountyfair.com. For vendor information, call Vendor Director Julie Hazen at 928-961-0938.
Award winning journalist with over 18 years experience in covering local news and issues affecting rural communities. Married 37 years, my life has taken me from Phoenix to Willcox to Globe. My husband and I are both overjoyed to find ourselves in Globe-Miami, with its rich history and sense of community. This is truly home.