Here is my long reflection on this past Monday’s Farm Fair Fundraiser, on the eve of The Relay for Life, as I look through pictures of the past week, month, year and life. It’s a mix of animal poop and flowers. Tears and cheers. AND it is all wonderful.
When I was a kid, the Orange County Fair was something that was the stuff of summer. The food, rides, side shows and table top tent sales. My grandmother was friends with the woman who ran the flower and vegetable exhibits, and my grandmother would sit and watch over the Arts and Crafts exhibits, in the connected building. People could enter all different kinds of things – from baked goods, to garden fare, flower arrangements, photographs, paintings, etc. Each year we would make our choices and stand on line to submit our registrations. The day before the fair we would go to drop everything off, and then the first day of the fair we would eagerly go, as family. Yes, we went to walk through the exhibit buildings, while the fairways were filled with people. Then we might do some rides, or eat or shop, BUT we would always go to the 4H buildings.
4H had some buildings with similar entries to the things we had done, but they also had animals. Oh, the animals. We would go through Old McDonald’s Farm. We would walk through the cow and goat and sheep barns. We would chat with the youth there, loving their animals. We had some friends there who we would talk to – about how the fair was going, their animals, their exhaustion from sleeping in the barn not overtaking their enjoyment of farm life.
They were respectful, kind, protective of their animals and friendly. They were informative. They were confident. They were comfortable.
My parents, at a young age, had fostered a love of animals in my brother and I, and we felt no need or desire to rush from those barns to the rest of the fair. It was a highlight. We had many animals at home, though not up to being called a farm, but as life would have it, 4H just wasn’t something we pursued amidst the many activities we did. Those summer afternoons in the fair barns were our time to live that life, before we went back to something else.
Some 20-30 years later, the Orange County Fair is not what it was. 4H, though, thrives.
Both Ephraim and Kira struggle with various challenges – some physical, some emotional, life being what it can be sometimes. I wanted something that would help to encourage them, to bring them away from their insecurities. 4H, I thought, could be a good fit. I had it on my list to look into when we were blessed with bumping into a delightful boy named Fondue and his people pets, in goat tow, at the Pine Bush Harvest Festival, September 2015. Fondue led us to Agway’s where we continued to chat with Dawn Laffey Krenner and Zina Mazzone and James Krenner and interacted with their fabulous animals. They were naturally good with my quirky kids…and quirky me. They explained how they could share their animals with the kids. “We would like to check out a meeting,” I said.
And we did.
The kids belly laughed and shared. I was instantly impressed by the way the older kids interacted with them, the way Ephraim and Kira were able to express themselves with Miranda Florkowski, Mya, James Krenner, Alexis Krenners, Nick. We had found a place where we felt comfortable already.
I think this could be really good, I thought.
How could I even know?
Just over 8 months later, and I have wacthed my children do things they said they could not. I have seen them reluctantly go on a stage and come off pumped with pride. I have felt the love as they bonded with animals and the other members of the group.
We have celebrated birthdays and talked about challenges. It has been not just good for the children, it has been good for me…for our whole family, who has felt what we stood standing in a barn at a fair so many years ago, a feeling of what is natural.
When my mother was diagnosed with her second round of Cancer this past March, right around my 40th birthday, well…ouch. I like to solve. There are some things I can’t solve. BUT I wanted to do what I could to have empowerment from something dark.I decided to see about our own Relay for Life Team. The Relay for Life “planning” starts in September, around when we first met our Farm Friends. April, well, that is kind of a late time to be getting started. I was okay with not raising a lot this year, though. “Whatever you can do will be good,” the coordinator told me. I put my family members’ names down and shared our page.
Then I received a Facebook message from Dawn – what was I doing Memorial Day?, she wanted to know. “Camping,” I told her. “We go each year.”
“Well, we’re going to a do a petting zoo and pony rides and games and raise money for your team. It’s okay if you can’t come, but I wanted to tell you.”
That is how it is.
And so began an effort that spread within the group and then to other groups – Farm Friends, Extreme Equestrians, Sheep’s Flock and Dairy Devils. Members donating goods and money and rallying to plan.
Soon the community was donating.
It was a feverish showing of collaboration and love. What do you need? What can I do?
I watched the day of the Fair as 4H kids, elementary to high school age, worked together to make it all happen. Adults giving up their Memorial Day to sit under a canopy in the heat and sell and serve.
Money handed in a bag to my mother, who tried to express that the money does not just matter to her, but will help so many people and will be a part of this phenomenal event – The Relay for Life. She couldn’t get her words right, overwhelmed. Emotional. [It was not until later that night that she could fully process the honor or the money being donated in her name.]
And I saw standing before my mother these 4H kids – respectful, kind, protective of their animals and friendly. They were informative. They were confident. They were comfortable.
I was brought back to my mother, at my age now, walking me through the exhibits – the excitement I felt if I got a ribbon and when it was time to go to the 4H animal barns.
We won a “Best in Show” with this group, and now I get to stand in the animals barns with them.
I am blessed, touched and so very grateful.
Thank you to all of the 4H people and community members who in any way supported this Farm Fair Fundraiser.
Community conquers cancer.
At fear of missing someone, I am going to hold off on listing everyone who donated, but I am going to tag a bunch of people. I promise a list of everyone will come too.