MOUNT VERNON — While the Knox County Fair is considered by its guests to be a fun week long event filled with carnival rides, funnel cakes and farm animals, the behind-the-scenes process is far more grueling than the public eye can see. Samantha Beheler, coordinator of the Knox County Junior Fair, says preparation for the fair, which starts Sunday, is a 365 day a year ordeal for nearly everyone involved. If an FFA or 4-H member takes a breeding animal project, it’s a non-stop process.
“The kids don’t ever stop, it’s 365 days a year. They’re constantly preparing,” Beheler said. Market animal projects can range from short term to long term, but the amount of effort that goes into the project depends on its caretaker. For most projects, 4-Her’s must have possession of their animals on May 1, with the two main outliers being market beef projects, that have a possession date of Dec. 1 the year before. Smaller animals such as rabbits and broilers need to be in possession by June. Beheler said the possession date doesn’t indicate how much effort goes into the project, and even smaller animals require dedication.
“It really doesn’t matter the possession date, I have some kids who will work with their broilers three to four times a day, and some kids who work with their steers or hogs three to four times a week. It depends on the kid and what their motivation level and dedication is like,” Beheler said.
Alexa Jones, a recent Fredericktown High School graduate, has been president of the Knox County Junior Fair Board since 2016. She’s entering her fifth and final year of 4-H, and was an FFA member for all of her four years of high school. Jones has shown sheep at the fair for the past five years. She chose sheep due to her aunt showing sheep, and the fact that it’s not a year round project. Plus, they’re cute and cuddly, she said.
Jones said she spends around an hour to an hour and a half a day caring for her sheep, which adds up when you’re a graduating high school senior, avid FFA and 4-H member and president of the Knox County Junior Fair Board.
“It would get really, really difficult at times. You definitely don’t get a whole lot of sleep,” Jones said. Jones said her relationships with her family, fellow FFA chapter and 4-H members and the board ease some of the stress. As the board prepares for the fair, Jones said that communication and teamwork are what make it possible.
“It’s all a team effort. Trying to work as an individual doesn’t work. Communicating and team work make everything run a lot smoother,” Jones said.
Sheep projects have a possession date of May 1, putting Jones at the end of her senior year when she started her project. With an impending graduation, she had to prioritize what events she was able to attend as the president, a member and a high school senior.
“I couldn’t be at everything I wanted to be as president. It’s really all about prioritizing,” Jones said reflecting on her last few months of high school. Despite the long hours and occasional stress, Jones said being able to be a role model for the younger kids makes it all worth it. She loves being able to answer their questions, and see their faces light up whenever they accomplish something with their project.
Beheler had a similar viewpoint, saying that the kids are what make the job worth it.
“You don’t do it for the pay, or because it’s a cake walk, because it’s not. You do it for the memories you won’t find in another career,” Beheler said.
She referred to the kids as the hidden gems of Knox County, and describes them as hard-working and dedicated, putting countless hours into making the fair what it is.
“We have a tremendous group of youth in our county,” Beheler said.
Beheler herself puts in countless hours as well. Each year on the last day of the fair, she meets with the Knox County Junior Fair board to wrap up and clean up. A week after the fair ends, she begins the process all over again, preparing for next year. She expressed that she wouldn’t be able to do it without the support from the Knox County OSU Extension Office, or Andrea Rees, a 4-H educator in the county she refers to as her right-hand man.
Beheler’s own experience in 4-H and FFA as well as having a history of a family farm fuels her dedication to the fair and the kids. She credits 4-H and FFA for the life skills and morals she learned over the course of her upbringing.
“Those things shaped me to be the person I am today. I want to give them all that I was given as a youth member,” Beheler said.
Beheler said she and the Knox County Junior Fair Board and Senior Fair Board strive to make the fair better every year from every perspective, and every decision they make keeps the exhibitors, vendors and guests in mind. What might seem like a simple decision to some, might take two months for them to make because they have to consider every repercussion it might have.
“We have to solve problems before the problem even presents itself,” Beheler said, “We have to be proactive. We want it to be the best fair it can be from every perspective, and just the best fair for everyone.”