"It's so much more than just cows," says Jenny Riley.
And she would know. Riley has been treading the grounds of the Montgomery County Fair for almost as long as she has been able to walk. Before becoming the agriculture teacher at Bear Branch Junior High and serving on multiple fair committees, she got her start as a kid working long hours in the barn for the chance to win Fair Scholarships for college. Her experience at the fair formed the foundation for her career, passing on knowledge and love of agriculture to the next generation.
The Montgomery County Fair's primary mission is to support youth and education in Montgomery County. In 2022, the organization invested over $1.5 million back into the community's youth, $150,000 of which was in scholarships. Jenny Riley credits the scholarships she won over her ten years of participating in fair competitions for her being able to graduate from Texas A&M University debt free.
Students gain more than access to college funds from participating in the fair. When Jenny Riley talks about why she loves the MCFA, her passion shines brightest when she speaks of the work ethic, confidence, and life skills gained from her participation. The required interviewing, recordkeeping, and knowledge assessments prepare students for college, the workforce, and beyond.
The fair's official mission may be to support the county's youth, but its unofficial mission is a good time. Like to eat? The second weekend of the fair hosts the Bud Light BBQ Cook-Off. Thrill seeker? Check out the carnival rides and midway attractions, the CPRA Rodeo, or risk your diet for some fair snacks. Music lover? Every year the fair brings in great country music artists and also features Latin music on the fair's "El Dia de la Familia Hispana" [Hispanic Family Day].
Perhaps more unknown than the rodeo and cookoff are the special fair days also held every year. Sunshine Day is an opportunity for those in the community with special needs to show off their skills in baked goods, arts, horticulture, and more. On Senior Day, those 65 and older get a chance to show items they've crafted, compete for the title of "King and Queen for the day," and participate in fun activities.
Over 75,000 people attended the 2022 fair, and Brian Hayes, the fair’s executive director, hopes to see that number double in the next ten years. By bridging gaps of culture, age, and other obstacles, the fair brings the county together for fun, learning, and investment in the future—a future not unlike the one seen in Jenny Riley.
It is easy to figure out why the Montgomery County Fair inspires so much love from its community. As Brian Hayes says, "All you have to do is walk outside and see it."
This year's fair starts March 23 and runs through April 2. Admission is free Monday through Thursday. For more information on attending the fair or volunteering, visit the MCFA website: https://mcfa.org/