East Texas Ag News: County fairs

(Angelina County Fair)
Published: Feb. 10, 2023 at 4:24 PM CST
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ANGELINA COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - County fairs bring up images of carnivals, livestock, pies, kids, canned goods, and so many other aspects of agrarian life. I have been a part of a county fair since I was a young member of 4-H in Johnson County, Texas. After being hired as a county extension agent, I have been a part of three county fairs. These were in Van Zandt County (Canton, Texas), Tyler County (Woodville, Texas), and, for the past 24 years, Angelina County (Lufkin, Texas).

County fairs are sometimes called county “stock shows” with their heavy emphasis on the livestock competition. Growing up, the livestock competitions consisted of the major three larger livestock market species, cattle, sheep, and hogs, as well as chickens, rabbits, and horses. For the past couple of decades, goats have been added to the roster of competitions. Many, many years ago when emus were trying to enter the livestock marketplace, there was an emu show in Canton! I was there to witness it. It was a mess!

In addition to livestock, food competitions are also a staple of the county fair. All manner of desserts and breads are typically a part of them: pies, cakes, cookies, and more. Recipes from grandmas compete with the latest recipe from Pinterest for top prizes. A key part of the scoresheet with these food competitions at our local fairs is the interview with the exhibitor. Great tasting food simply will not claim top prize if you cannot also explain to the judges the cost of the dish, discuss preparation techniques, and the nutritive content.

Another competition which is often overlooked is the agricultural mechanic’s show. Those in the know just call it “ag mech.” Here, you’ll find restored tractors alongside newly built farm implements, trailers, barbecue pits, and more.

Arts and crafts often make a big showing in Angelina County as well. Paintings and photos hang alongside quilts and woodwork as judges evaluate them in their respective categories.

To be able to compete, youth from across the county typically must be a part of 4-H, FFA, or FCCLA. The ages of kids involved ranges from 3rd graders up through high school for any youth competitions that have a chance to sell their project in the auction.

Expanding further, barbecue competitions are becoming a mainstay, with teams cooking up beef, pork, and chicken with sides to be evaluated by judges.

This year, our county fair has expanded again to include a shotgun and archery competition.

While those attending from the public may see a county fair as a throwback to more agrarian days, there is a keen driving force for every county fair I’ve known about: the development of the youth involved. There are three key areas that participation in livestock shows has shown to be important: life skills, development of character, and family relationships.

If you were to look at just how many livestock producers entered the business after their participation in a county fair, you’d be sorely disappointed. In fact, in all my years of being a part of county fairs, I do not know of a single exhibitor that chose to be a stockman, of any kind, from their participation in the show ring.

Much more importantly, the effort and grit and hard work that these 4-H, FFA, and FCCLA students put into their projects benefits them in a manner that goes beyond any “champion” prize. Families work together, youth learn how to be responsible for a livestock that will enter the food chain, and they all learn about setbacks, difficulties, and (most assuredly) not getting grand champion.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be highlighting youth of all ages from across Angelina County that are competing in our county fair. The dates of the fair are from March 20-25 at the George H. Henderson Expo Arena.

To see the full schedule and learn more about the competitions and events, visit the website at https://angelinacountyfair.com.


Cary Sims is the county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu.