I received an email last week from a reader who was deeply distraught about my musings over the county fair that seemingly pop up in my writings this time of year. He made an eloquent case about how the livestock projects were not representative of real world economics, that there was too much emphasis on winning, and that far too many kids are scarred for life because of the pressure created by competition that is largely stacked in favor of money and families who for one reason or another have an unfair competitive advantage. He also argued that teamwork, not individual successes, are the way to measure victories.

I suppose, like anything, there is a dark side. It may be too simplistic of a world view but I suppose any system that declares victors by definition also creates losers. If a red ribbon on clothing construction or a failure to place in sheep showmanship is a life-changing negative event, then I have doubts about how those individuals might fare anyway.

I’m certainly willing to admit that there are probably some downsides to the 4-H youth program, but it has been a defining and positive experience for our family. I will concede that next week, I will probably get angry with a kid that is more interested in playing with his friends than mucking out a stall. I will probably feel a little too much pride living vicariously through my kids with any small success that might achieve or twinge of hurt in watching a defeat, but when we all sit down under a shade tree eating a funnel cake and drinking a lemonade, and look out at the kids that participate in this program, and the feeling of community that is felt at the fair, I will be hard pressed to think of anywhere I’d rather be.

The youth programs in this industry may not be perfect, but I sure hope I’m taking them in as a grandparent in 30 years or so from today.