Last first day at the fair
Martin family enjoys final time showing in Rock County
The Martin family – (from left) Bonnie, Joe, Evan, Abigail and her husband, Calvin – pose at the Rock County Fair during the family’s final time showing at the fair. The Martins’ 200-cow dairy is located near Janesville, Wisconsin. PHOTO SUBMITTED
JANESVILLE, Wis. – For the Martin family, this year’s county fair was more emotional than most. It marked the end of an era as Evan Martin wrapped up his tenure in 4-H at the age of 19. After nearly 15 years of showing at the Rock County Fair, this year was his last, which also meant it was the end of the road for his family’s fair days as well.
“This is our last first day at the fair,” said Evan’s dad, Joe, on the day they moved their cattle in. “We’re really going to miss it.”
Joe and his wife, Bonnie, own and operate a 200-cow dairy near Janesville with help from their children, Abigail and Evan. Evan will be a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall where he is studying dairy science with plans to return to the home farm after graduation. His 26-year-old sister, a former Alice in Dairyland, also showed for many years, and in total, the Martin kids have exhibited at the county fair for about 20 years.
“My kids basically grew up at the fair,” Joe said. “Abigail and her husband came for the last three days of the fair this year and were neck-deep helping in fair stuff. It’s a family undertaking, and there are a lot of hands involved. I farm with my brother, Tom, who is invaluable in helping me be able to do the fair thing with the kids.”
Evan brought two heifers and two cows to show at the fair which was held July 26-31. About 150 head of dairy cattle were exhibited.
“This fair is a bit unique in that it’s located in an urban environment right in the middle of Janesville,” Joe said. “There’s zero parking, which is one of our challenges, but it’s also an opportunity for us to engage with an urban audience. Animals are a natural draw for the urban fairgoer. We want our kids to embrace that and share their enthusiasm for agriculture. It’s gratifying to see the next generation pick up that mantle of advocacy.”
Because it was his last year, Evan planned to savor every moment he had left in 4-H.
“I’m looking forward to doing everything I can this year,” he said. … “I would also like to do really well in my showmanship class. This year, I’m hoping to take a run at the master showman class.”
A Rock County Fair tradition for 12 years, the master showmanship contest showcases the top two showmen from each species. If participating in the class, the showman must show not only their own animal but all the other species as well. Evan has shown swine and poultry at the fair in addition to dairy, which his dad felt might give him a leg up.
“The master showman contest encourages kids to get out of their comfort zone,” Joe said. “It’s competitive yet filled with camaraderie. The kids teach each other and help each other out. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Evan did achieve that goal this year when he took second in his showmanship class with one of his cows, landing him a spot in the master showmanship contest.
“This was awesome for Evan and very rewarding for Bonnie and me to witness as parents,” Joe said.
Evan also earned blue ribbons on both of his cows – one won her class, and the other was second.
Evan is a member of the Consolidated 4-H Club which has 70 members, seven of which are dairy members. Joe and Bonnie serve as the club’s dairy project leaders and also previously served on the fair board, doing a 30-year term between the two of them.
Their club’s theme this year was, “Red, White and Moo – Remembering You in 2022.” Pictures of all the kids who graduated from high school or were moving on like Evan were displayed above the cattle. Along with Evan’s photo was a picture of his brother, Austin, who passed away in the seventh grade from pediatric cancer. Austin would have graduated from high school this year.
The fair is a favorite family tradition of the Martins, and for Joe, this year’s county fair was the 50th he attended.
“The fair is an awesome time of year,” he said. “My lifelong passion for the fair, kids and dairy all comes together at this event. I love watching the kids thrive – whether my own or those in my dairy club. I’m a dairy guy, and I love the whole showing cattle thing and taking care of cattle from the county fair to the national level and everything in between.”
In addition to dairy, Evan also takes woodworking and crops projects to the county fair.
“I’ve taken crops and dairy to the fair every year,” he said. “I did archery once and a couple years of chickens and pigs. I started woodworking projects once I was old enough to use power tools.”
This year, he made a bench out of old barn wood for in front of the milking parlor while his crops project consisted of haylage and a slab of straw. Evan said he has received a blue ribbon every year for his woodworking projects.
“Cattle are my focus and consume the most time, but I like to do other things too,” he said.
Evan’s favorite fair memory occurred in 2014 when his cow was named honorable mention grand champion.
“She was the first calf I ever brought to the fair, and I brought her back as a cow when I was 12 years old,” he said.
When he was younger, Evan loved going on rides, but now he said that one of the things he likes doing most at the county fair is looking at the other projects. He also enjoys taking shifts at the Farm Bureau tent serving food with his friends. Evan also looks forward to the water fight in the courtyard on Sunday afternoon every year on the last day of the fair.
This would also be Evan’s last year showing at the Wisconsin State Fair. When the county fair was done, the Martins had to pack back up for the state fair as the fairs occur in back-to-back weeks.
“If I have enough time, I’m going to keep showing at the district show, but it won’t be the same as the county fair,” Evan said. “I think this is going to hit me more next year on show day.”
When the Rock County Fair ended this year, Evan spent some time alone in the stock pavilion soaking up the fair environment one last time as he said goodbye to a sacred piece of his childhood.
“It was a poignant moment as we were packing up to leave for the last time,” Joe said. “It hit the kids harder than I thought it might. But it only hurts to be done with something when it means so much to be doing it.”