The county fair is over. Know how I can tell? At my house, the milk is sour, the bread is moldy, the grass needs cutting and we're surrounded by piles of dirty clothes. Yep, the fair is over and now it's time to get back into the normal swing of things.

My family was one of hundreds that spent five solid days at the fairgrounds last week for the Finney County Fair. It's an intense time that alternates between being fun, frustrating, rewarding, disappointing, thrilling, exhausting, relaxing and grueling. One 4-H mom (who had taken vacation from her job to be at the fair with her family), sighed tiredly and mused, "Why does the fair have to be so hard?"

We asked that question repeatedly last year when it was 106 degrees with a hot south wind. We asked it again this year when it was 60 degrees with four inches of rain.

I thought a lot about that question during the fair. Why do we 4-H families do what we do at fair time? Frankly, at times it IS hard! But, like the Tom Hanks character says in the movie "A League of Their Own" when describing the rigors of professional baseball "It's the hard that makes it great."

The benefits of involvement in 4-H at fair time or any time can be very great. Not only do 4-H activities like the fair bring families together, but the benefits of 4-H last a lifetime. That's why we continue to do things like spending five days at the county fair, even if it's hard at times.

Research done by Tufts University shows that 4-H successfully strengthens young people, their families and their communities. Even for youth already involved in sports or after-school programs, 4-H made the difference:

4-H members are 50 percent less likely than non 4-H members to smoke cigarettes, shoplift or use illegal drugs.

4-H members are 20 percent more likely to hold a leadership position in their school or community than non 4-H members.

4-H members are 24 percent more likely to get involved in projects that "help others" than are non 4-H members.

4-H members are 65 percent more likely than non 4-H members to have held conversations with an adult other than a parent that lasted 10 minutes or more within the past month.

40 percent of 4-H alumni have completed a university degree, compared to 28 percent nationwide.

The rewards of growing great kids makes up for doing what seems hard. That's why I dovetail my 4-H parent duties with my Extension agent duties during five busy days at the county fair. And after I do some laundry, mow the grass, buy fresh groceries and get some sleep, the fair won't seem to have been that hard after all.