Anachan's Corner

One woman's journey through marriage, motherhood, and the classroom…

County Fair

Written By: Anachan - Aug• 24•14

Our county fair is very small, which isn’t surprising, as our county has a population of roughly 4600, according to the US Census Bureau.  While the livestock competition is much more involved, generally speaking, the key to winning a prize in the exhibit building is to enter obscure categories with no competition.  In addition, a person can enter something without a category even listed, such as cajeta, which I entered this year, and the exhibit building volunteers will create a category specifically for that item.  (Needless to say, that’s an automatic blue ribbon.)  Prizes are small, with a blue ribbon earning two dollars and a “Best of Show” ribbon earning seven.  Bragging rights are the real prizes.

Although the fairgrounds are in the county seat of Lordsburg, NM, very few people from Lordsburg actually enter items in the fair.  Most entries are submitted by families living “out in the county”, in the smaller country communities or on the isolated ranches far from any community, where provident living and self-sufficiency are practiced more fully.  Children from those families may be baking and entering cookies in the fair by the time they are five or six, so an eleven-year-old child can be stiff competition in the Junior category.

This year, I decided this non-representation of Lordsburg needed to change, so I took a week and focused on the fair with my GRADS class.  GRADS is a program originally designed to provide support for expectant and parenting teens, helping them with their family needs and helping them stay in school to earn their high school diplomas.  Because our school is so small, we also open the class up to students not traditionally associated with GRADS, allowing them to take it as an elective.  One thing I figure that young parents need to know is how to be more self-sufficient in food preparation, both to be able to put together healthy meals on a budget and to be able to experience the joy and freedom of being able to make things for themselves and others.  So for the week of fair, the second week of the school year, my students had a whirlwind lesson on the basics of kitchen safety, proper measurements, and cookie preparation.  Then we divided into teams and baked cookies.

Two teams made peanut butter cookies, and two teams made chocolate chip cookies.  I knew these would be hotly contested categories in the fair, as they are some of the more popular cookies, but I allowed the students to take ownership of their entries and make the decisions.  It was pretty exciting, as some of these students had never baked anything at all before this experience, and there was a lot of giggling and quick correction of technique.  By the time we were finished, they had selected the cookies from their batches which they thought best represented their efforts, and our entries were ready.

I took the entries to the fair and explained to the ladies in charge of the exhibit building that I had teams of three for each plate.  At first, they were unwilling to let me enter them in this fashion, saying an entry could only have one name on it.  (It didn’t say that in the fair rule book . . .)

I looked them pleadingly in the eyes and explained.  “Every year, when I come to the fair, I see entries from Cotton City, Animas, and other areas in the county.  I never see anything from Lordsburg.”  I paused and took a breath.  “My goal here is to help these girls have pride in their fair.”

They thought a moment and agreed.  “If they win,” they said, “we can provide three ribbons, but we cannot change the monetary award.  They’ll have to split it.”  We agreed that was fair, and so my students were able to have all their names listed on their entries.

Given the competition, I wasn’t sure they would win anything, although I knew certain plates had a better chance than others.

The next day, when students could enter the fair without an admission fee, I sent my daughters in to the exhibit building to check on the results.  They returned with smiles.  “Mom!  One of the peanut butter cookie plates won third place, and one of the chocolate chip cookie plates did, too!”

As we would say in Japanese, “Yatta!”  (“We did it!”)

I am so proud of my students for taking the plunge and representing their town.  Although next year I won’t be able to organize such a baking activity for them, as we will be in a different building, waiting for our new high school to be built, I hope they will make the effort to step up and put in an entry again.

P. S.  Being a high school teacher in a small town is something akin to being a minor celebrity.  After only two years of teaching, a decent percentage of the town knows me and is willing to call out smiling greetings when they see me at the county fair dance or at the truck stops.  Kind of makes you feel that maybe, just maybe, you are making a small difference.  (I can only imagine how it is for the teachers whose students’ children are now attending high school.)

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