It was a busy morning Thursday at Fonner Park as the Hall County Fair officially got underway.

In the Five Points Bank Livestock Arena, the 4-H Swine Show was taking place. In the Sheep Barn, the 4-H Poultry Show was happening. Over in the Pinnacle Bank Expo Building, judges were going over hundreds of 4-H projects — from art to photography to food to electronics — Hall County youths had entered in the fair.

In the Sheep Barn were the 4-H livestock entries, from cattle to swine, rabbits to chickens, goats to sheep. Over in the Thompson Arena, 4-H’ers were preparing for the equine competition, which is a popular event.

Helping to organize the 4-H Poultry Show in the Sheep Barn was Megan Knuth, Hall County Extension assistant for 4-H youth development.

“Our first two shows this morning were the open class and 4-H Swine Show,” Knuth said. “We are just kicking things off.”

The momentum was starting to build, with the fair going through Sunday. She was excited about the number of 4-H and open-class participants this year.

“They are looking really, really good,” Knuth said. “Our numbers are pretty consistent every year.”

In recent years, there have been more small-animal livestock 4-H projects, such as poultry, rabbits and goats. As more than 90 percent of Hall County’s population lives in Grand Island, small-animal projects have been growing in popularity. There are still good numbers of cattle and swine entries, but the smaller animals have allowed more 4-H youths to participate.

“What is exciting this year is that we have a few more dairy goats,” she said.

Knuth said they have also started a mother/daughter class to show the breeding capabilities of the dairy goats.

“We see a lot of love, care and passion,” she said about the effort the Hall County 4-H’ers put into their livestock and static exhibit projects. “The kids are learning about good animal husbandry, respect, responsibility, public speaking and teamwork. It is a fabulous thing to watch.”

It has been 10 years now since the Nebraska State Fair moved to Grand Island. When the State Fair came to the community, many new livestock facilities were constructed, and they have also been home to the Hall County Fair.

Knuth said many of the 4-H’ers and open-class participants will go on to compete during the Nebraska State Fair in late August and early September.

With all the changes and the growth of Grand Island, the spirit of the county fair is still strong in Hall County.

“We are all still rural Nebraskans, even though Grand Island is growing and Hall County is getting more urban,” Knuth said. “Our roots are still agriculture.”

On Sunday, there will be the Pioneer Farm and Heritage Farm Awards that honor the families who have held same family ownership of land for 100 and 150 years at 4:30 p.m. at the Five Points Bank Livestock Arena.

This year an award will go to Jeff Ewoldt, who is a fourth-generation farmer and livestock producer.

His two sons, Kaden, 17, and, Cooper, 13, were at the fair showing meat goats, which were raised on the family’s original homestead.

The award is sponsored by the Knights of Aksarben.

Both the fair and the Ewoldt family have their roots in early Hall County.

The first Hall County Fair was held Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 1875, on the grounds of the Hall County Courthouse in Grand Island.

Ewoldt said when his great-grandfather first settled in Hall County in the 1870s, he had a cattle operation, farmed and had a small mill operation.

His father, Bryce Ewoldt, still lives on the family’s original homestead. Along with raising meat goats, they have a cow/calf operation and they farm, very much like his great-grandfather.

Jeff Ewoldt is a member of the Hall County Fair Board.

With all the challenges that face agriculture, from politics to economics to natural disasters to massive technological change, having a farm remain in the family for 150 years is truly a rare milestone.

One can only look at 2019 and the natural disasters that have beset Hall County farmers to imagine how harsh and unrelenting nature can be when it comes to working on the land. Many rural 4-H’ers have seen their families struggle with the furies of this year. It is still going on; many farmers in Hall County are battling major flooding for a second time.

Ewoldt said his great-grandfather was from Germany. He was one of the many immigrants who came to the Great Plains in the latter part of the 19th century and made communities such as Grand Island possible.

When Ewoldt was his sons’ age, he showed hogs and cattle at the Hall County Fair.

“My sons have shown cattle in the past,” he said. “This year, they are showing meat goats.”

When Ewoldt showed livestock at the Hall County Fair, it was in Fonner Park’s Big Red Barn. Now, his sons are exhibiting at the modern livestock facilities built when the Nebraska State Fair came to town.

“When it was 90 degrees outside, it was 110 degrees inside,” he said about showing in the Big Red Barn. The livestock facilities where the 4-H’ers show their stock now are air-conditioned.

Showing goats at the Hall County Fair has only come about in the last 15 years. Both having a goat show and having new livestock facilities have helped to rejuvenate the Hall County Fair.

“Nationwide, the meat goat program has really taken off and grown,” Ewoldt said. “It is an easier and less expensive project for kids than raising beef.”

For Kaden and Cooper, having their family honored with the Pioneer Farm and Heritage Farm Award is quite an honor.

“It is a big accomplishment,” Kaden said. “Being the fifth generation says a lot.”

Kaden, who is 17 and will be a senior this year at Northwest High School, has been showing livestock at the Hall County Fair since he was a 4-H Clover Kid at the age of 5.

He said he has been around the farm all his life and hopes to continue to the family’s farming and ranching legacy.

“This fair means a lot to me,” Kaden said. “This is my 13th year showing at the fair. It is still something exciting for me.”

For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit www.hallcountyfair.com.

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I cover business, ag and general reporting for the GI Independent.

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