4-H Kids Go for Gold (and Blue) at the Western Montana Fair


Our family has been watching some of the Olympics this past week. We’ve enjoyed watching it and especially all the inspiring stories of how the athletes made their way to London. There are lots of stories of overcoming obstacles, frustrations, and fears.

As we watch those athletes succeed, I secretly hope my boys internalize those stories and someday use them for their own success in whatever they pursue.

Two nights ago, our family made a game plan to finish all the farm chores quickly so we could come in and watch Michael Phleps make history in the swimming pool.

Since the fair begins this week, we have lots of preparation going on. That night, the boys got their 4-H pigs out and walked them for 20 minutes, followed by feeding them and hosing them down. My youngest went to collect eggs and decide which chickens he would enter in the fair. Jon and I moved sprinklers and inventoried the hog feed to make sure the boys would have enough for their hogs until the fair started. With all of us working together, we finished chores in record time and dashed back in to catch the exciting night of swimming.

During a commentary about one of the athletes and their dedication to the training and preparation of their sport, it finally hit me! We were living the same life as these Olympic athletes and their families.

As 4-H kids, my sons have dedicated themselves to the training and preparation of their 4-H projects. And as parents, we are the ones pushing them to strive for excellence, making them get up early during the summer to care for their pigs, driving them to meetings, helping them keep track of their financial records, and encouraging them when they get frustrated and are ready to give up.

Erin's son proudly shows off a blue ribbon win on his 4-H Trail Hiking project.

Erin’s son proudly shows off a blue ribbon win on his 4-H Trail Hiking project.

For Missoula County 4-H kids, the Western Montana Fair is their Olympics. This is what they have been working toward all year long. Some are coming back with a deep drive for vengeance after being defeated last year. Others are perennial performers and always end up on the “medal stand”. Many older kids depend on success at the fair for college scholarships.

They all come with dreams of winning and gaining the satisfaction of a job well done. And with them, come their parents, grandparents, friends, and family to root them on, share in the joy of victory as well as sharing the tears of defeat.

The Western Montana Fair opens this Tuesday for the public, but for 4-H kids, the fair started many months ago.

Our own boys bought their 4-H pigs in early March and have been raising them to market weight and training to show them in the this week. They also have created beautiful woodworking pieces for entry into the fair. In addition to the projects themselves, they are required to complete project activities in workbooks provided by the National 4-H office.

All of these things required commitment and dedication by the kids and of course, help and encouragement by the parents. Finally reaching the fair is a relief because all the really hard work happens beforehand!

Although, even when it’s done and the kids have succeeded, there is still so much of their heart wrapped up in their work.

Erin's son walks his hog in a 4-H competition.

For 4-H kids, the fair is their Olympics.

I’ll never forget the first year our oldest showed hogs. He knew the entire time he would be selling “Hank” at the Livestock Auction on the Saturday of the fair and using the money for college savings. He was good with it.

But on Sunday when it was time for the hogs to get loaded and he had to say goodbye, he cried his little heart out which in turn made our whole family blubbering idiots!

We walked away from the hog barn, out into the sea of fair-goers who were oblivious to our pain. Teenagers were yelling and laughing, toddlers were crying and whining, people were bumping into us.

It was a surreal moment and I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs, “Folks, stop and mourn with this young boy! He and the countless other 4-H kids are the reason why we have fairs yet you are numb to what these kids have done!”

Knowing my sons would have died from embarrassment at my soapbox announcement, I refrained at that moment but now, I find it my mission to share this important message.

The Fair is an amazing week yet most of Missoula misses the true spirit of what it is all about. I urge everyone in Missoula to come and enjoy our fair this week.

If you’re a person who despises the fair, try shifting your focus away from the commercial part of it and spend some time in the animal barns. 4-H kids are all over those barns and would love to talk with you about their animals.

A view of Mount Sentinel from the Missoula Fairgrounds.

The Western Montana Fair begins this week!

Go into the 4-H building and let yourself be amazed at the quality of work of 9-18 year olds on things from quilts to restored rifles. Seeing all this will give you renewed hope in the youth of today!

Come and watch the kids enter the show ring as they are judged on their animals and their ability to show the animal. It’s as exciting as any Olympic sport! Watch as the ribbons are handed out and kids enter the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. Watch as parents nervously bite their nails, whisper encouragements and last minute tips to their young competitors and experience the parents’ pride as they watch their son or daughter perform.

Montana 4-H is celebrating 100 years this summer!

For a century now, kids across our state have been training and competing like Olympians in various projects. They have learned how to overcome obstacles, frustrations and fears in order to achieve success and excellence.

The fair may not have the grandiose opening ceremonies or even the extravagant facilities, but it has the same spirit of competition and a group of young competitors who have sacrificed much for the chance to reach for gold!

Be sure to also read my blog about how to save money at the Western Montana Fair!


Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, and sticking to a budget in her blog archive. And be sure to check out the Missoula Save it Club.


Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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