Passing on a Fair Tradition
August Featured Farmer: Wendy Sweeter
Family traditions run deep in South Dakota, and during the late summer, the best place to see those traditions in action is at one of the many county and regional fairs and 4-H Achievement Days around the state.
Wendy Sweeter of Worthing knows the traditions firsthand.
“My grandma showed beef at the Sioux Empire Fair and then my mom, aunts and uncle exhibited in 4-H there. My brothers and sisters and I exhibited in 4-H and open class, and now, my two kids have started exhibiting in open class there,” said Wendy Sweeter.
Wendy and her husband Kurtis farm and raise cattle with Kurtis’ parents Ken and Marlene, and brother, Mike and his wife Jennifer. They are the fourth generation on the Sweeter family farm, raising crops and have a herd of 120 beef cows.
The experiences gained by showing livestock and creating other exhibits for 4-H and fairs were important to Wendy, starting with her first open class entry at the Sioux Empire Fair-- a pair of Winnie the Pooh pants that she sewed and entered in open class when she was 5 years old -- through her years in 4-H and beyond.
“Throughout my 4-H days, I showed beef and swine, did fashion revue, created many static exhibits and participated in most of the judging contests,” she said. “After graduating from 4-H, I continued to exhibit at the Sioux Empire Fair open class. I also worked at our county Extension office for five summers so I helped with different 4-H shows and events before and during the fair.”
Four years ago, the Arts Center Coordinator position at the Sioux Empire Fair was open and a friend suggested Wendy for the job. She’s enjoyed the opportunity to coordinate the more than 1,400 entries and contests for the 10 day fair, noting that it has been both an adventure and a learning experience.
Wendy also brings a unique perspective as a former editor of Tri-State Neighbor publication and freelance writer who has been to every county fair or achievement days in South Dakota.
“Each fair is a little different and a different size, but one thing remains the same: Families are showing the public what agriculture means to them,” she said. “They are showing consumers how they care for their animals and how farming is a family affair.”
Kurtis and Wendy met as students at South Dakota State University. They married in 2003 and returned to Kurtis’ family farm to make their own home and raise their own family.
“The most rewarding thing about farming and raising livestock today is growing the kids on the farm. I’m so grateful that we can raise our kids on the farm where they have open space to play and explore, but they are also learning hard work,” she said.
Kurtis and Wendy’s children are active in 4-H in Lincoln County and participate in the 4-H Achievement Days program there. Karin is 11 and in her third year of 4-H. This year she has a steer and heifer, four pigs and three rabbits for achievement days and enjoys fashion revue, special foods, judging and exhibiting static exhibits. Bode, 6, is a “clover bud,” which is the program for beginning 4-Hers. Cousins Kade, 5, and Aubree, 3, already enjoy being around livestock. Kurtis and his siblings and his dad, aunts, uncles and cousins were all active in Lincoln County 4-H.
Kurtis works full-time at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls in addition to farming, so managing the farm workload is a challenge, but they are also very active in community and agriculture organizations. The Sweeters were recognized as the Sioux Empire Farm Show Farm Family of the Year earlier this year, so Kurtis attends the monthly Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce Ag Division meetings to report on what’s happening on the farm.
Kurtis and Wendy help with the Tri-Valley FFA alumni FFA contest every March and help work concessions for that group as well for home football games. Wendy is treasurer of the Lincoln County 4-H Leaders Association and a club leader and is clerk for their township. They are also active in their church.
Even with their schedules, taking time for involvement in county and Sioux Empire Fair is a priority.
“County fairs are important to farm families like us because it gives us a chance to get off the farm and give our urban neighbors a glimpse of our lives,” said Wendy. “Farm families with kids involved in 4-H or FFA are furthering the installation of a good work ethic and fairness when they involve their kids in those programs.”
Check out a list of South Dakota fairs and 4-H Achievement Days here.