Molly Balint recounts her daughter’s first county fair.
My daughter’s first 4-H project taught her to rise above heartbreak.
There’s a part of the county fair that I skim over every year. It’s one of the hardest parts for our girls—Mary, Emma, Elizabeth— and for me. But at the same time, it’s one of the most important pieces of the girls’ 4-H experience. The reality is that the lambs we buy in the spring for the project are raised for their meat and sold in an auction at the end of the fair. For 4-H kids, this comes with lots of responsibility. If there ever was an opportunity to understand and honor where your food comes from, there’s not much that matches raising it yourself. Not only are they learning about the sources of their food, they are part of the process. The lambs are treated with respect, kindness and gentleness. They are nurtured and loved, and for the time that they are in our care, given the best home possible. But despite the fact that we all know how this story is going to end, hearts still manage to become entwined with these four-legged woolly animals. For my girls, the goodbyes come on Saturday night. The excitement of the auction in the show ring barn is mingled with dread of what’s to come. It’s not easy for them, but they understand. The 2016 fair was different. For starters, it was Elizabeth’s first year showing, and she is my tender-hearted child. When she was younger, she got especially attached to one of Emma’s lambs and sobbed the whole way home from the fair. To complicate things even more, Elizabeth and her lamb, Nora, became attached to each other. During the first few days of the fair, people stood outside our pen, looking Nora over. Many thought we had one of the best-looking lambs there. And while this may seem like an exciting prospect, it left us quite torn. If Nora won the show, we would have to sell her. The grand and reserve grand champion lambs must go through the auction. So I asked Elizabeth if she would like to pull Nora from the show. After much discussion, Elizabeth said she wanted to go for it. She was going to put Nora in the show. And then the bittersweet happened: Nora won reserve grand champion. We were thrilled, but I have to admit my heart sank a bit when the judge shook her hand and gave her the big purple ribbon. When auction night arrived, Elizabeth seemed OK. I thought about trying to buy Nora back, but I knew I might not be able to afford it. And I hated to give Elizabeth any false hope. As Elizabeth and I stood together waiting for her turn to go into the sale ring, suddenly she looked at me as her face twisted up and she started to cry. I wiped her tears and whispered in her ear how proud I was of her. When her turn came to walk in the ring, Elizabeth managed to pull herself together. But her red, puffy eyes gave away her sadness. I stood in the back and listened as the price climbed higher and higher. When the gavel dropped and Nora was sold, I was discouraged to find out she’d been bought by a bank. I figured a bank would be unwilling to lose money and let me buy Nora. Elizabeth and I pushed through the crowds to find Nora’s buyer standing in the back. His name was John Eaton and he worked for PeoplesBank. We thanked him for his support of 4-H kids. Then I explained the situation to him and asked if there would be any way he’d consider letting us buy Nora. Before the words were all out of my mouth, John stopped me. He told us that he had a flock of sheep on his farm. He said that Nora was a nice lamb and he told us to keep her. Not every fair ends this way, but sometimes things work out. It was a good year at the fair. I’m proud of the hard work my girls are doing. And I’m truly thankful for good people who give so freely, like that kind banker standing in the back corner of the sale barn. Go to for more of Molly’s stories about life on her Maryland farm. thefarmhousecreative.com