Quinn's Favorite Story of 2021

Return of Fairs Was Good News for Communities, 4-H Families

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Washington County (Nebraska) 4-H youth took a group photo before the large animal auction at the end of the 2021 Washington County Fair. (DTN photo by Russ Quinn)

Editor's Note: 2021 was a wild one, from a tumultuous change in the White House, to continued La Nina influences on the weather, to skyrocketing fertilizer and input costs. There were also a lot of good stories to tell. As the calendar year comes to a close, we asked the DTN/Progressive Farmer writing team to pick their favorite effort from the year. The stories range from fun insights into ag entrepreneurs to serious investigations into the unintended consequences of popular production methods, to life lessons learned along the way to telling the tale. Each story also includes a link to the original story, in case you missed that. Enjoy a look back, with our 10th story, shared by Russ Quinn.


OMAHA (DTN) -- I imagine that for some reporters covering the agriculture industry, it's just a job. They write about what is going on in ag and then go on with their normal day's activities.

For me, however, it has always been a little different.

Agriculture has been a central part of my entire life and for my family's life for several generations.

Along with being an ag reporter, I am also a fifth generation Nebraska farmer raising corn, soybeans and hay. My family has always raised cattle -- first dairy and now beef cattle -- and we continue to raise a small cow-calf herd of mainly Angus cattle.

My days start with livestock chores in the morning, writing ag stories in the middle of the day and then chores in the evening. Sometimes I have to work from home -- not because a pandemic put me there, but to keep a closer eye on livestock.

Does that make me a super ag reporter? Well, no it does not. However, I certainly understand what farmers and livestock producers are concerned about since I often have the same issues.

This leads me to my favorite article I wrote in 2021. This story was pretty easy for me to write as my family lives for our local county fair every summer and in 2020 the pandemic put a big, old wet blanket on it.

In 2021 our county fair, the Washington County (Nebraska) Fair, was back at full tilt after the 2020 version was severely limited because of the worldwide pandemic.

I wrote how I felt to have the return of the fair.

I grew up just to the south in neighboring Douglas County in an area just west of Omaha, which was a rural area at one time when the previous generations of my family lived and farmed there. By the time I came along, the area had changed over to more suburban area to the approaching big city.

One of the casualties of this change was the "old" Douglas County Fair being moved from small town Waterloo into Omaha in the late 1980s. This was done to get more urban residents of the county to attend.

This was major blow to the county's dwindling rural population and something I vividly remember as kid. As if the 1980s wasn't hard enough with the farm crisis, our county fair was taken away as well.

In 1997, because of the urban sprawl, my family relocated the family farm about 30 miles north in northern Washington County. My wife and I built a new house on the farm in 2003 and us and our three kids (age 17, 12 and 10) live on the farm.

Once our oldest son got to be 8 years old, we found a local 4-H club (Future Producers) and had him join it to show livestock. Nine years later, all three of our kids are in the club now and I am one of the leaders.

Our summer highlight is the county fair at the end of July. A majority of those six days are spent at the fairgrounds in Arlington, Nebraska.

I think, for myself, having my kids involved in 4-H and spending so much time there at the various events is partially because I missed out on this same experience in my teenage years. I had a childhood half with a local county fair and half without -- and the half with one was way more fun.

That's why when some county and even state fairs were cancelled or limited in 2020, I knew from my own first-hand experience that these summertime staples were going to be missed by these small communities. While those who live in larger communities might not be able to fully understand, the county fair is a big part of small-town life which did not occur in 2020.

People returned in droves when the county fairs came back in 2021, at least in our county. And hopefully they will never have to go without fairs again.

You can see my story, from Aug. 6, 2021 at https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

Russ Quinn