Most people involved in agriculture view county, provincial and state fairs with nostalgia. My immediate family members and I have fond memories of participating in dozens of county, state and regional fairs as livestock and 4-H project exhibitors, and as visitors.
Perhaps some organizers of fairs, such as board members and fair workers, consider fairs to be times for hard work and little sleep. These committed supporters gladly offer their assistance. They know the wholesome opportunities for fun and educational benefits fairs bring to all participants.
A few county fairs have already been held this year in the U.S. and Canada. The next three months will be very busy times for exhibitors, vendors, carnival staff and rodeo operators as they get ready for fairs of all sizes.
There are at least 85 state and regional fairs and six provincial fairs, as well as many other livestock, crop and machinery expositions throughout the year, according to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.
The Texas State Fair has the largest annual attendance, with more than three million visitors yearly. Minnesota has the largest daily attendance, averaging approximately 150,000 persons, and the second largest state or provincial fair overall.
A number of state, regional and provincial fairs attract more than a million visitors each year, notably: the Arizona, Iowa, New England, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ontario (Canada) and Washington fairs. The British Columbia, California, Indiana, Tulsa (also an Oklahoma event) and Wisconsin fairs often draw almost a million visitors annually.
The largest local fair is the Los Angeles County Fair at Pomona, California. The Clay County Fair in Iowa, is the second largest county fair and has the second most farm machinery on display. The National Farm Machinery Show, held in Louisville, Kentucky this year, claims to be the largest farm machinery exposition, although some dispute this claim.
The Erie County Fair in New York ranks third. Most county and district fairs in the U.S., Canada and other countries around the world are local endeavors.
In many parts of the U.S. and Canada, county fairs receive financial support from their state or province; attendance is holding or increasing at many of these events. A growing number of annual county fairs, and some “big name” events such as the Michigan State Fair in Detroit, have become defunct because of declining attendance, loss of state funding, or both.
Fairs stem back to the days of the Roman Empire, when expositions of crafts, crops, animals and the wares of merchants were displayed and offered for trade or sale. Roman fairs also held a variety of athletic and equestrian games, such as races, circuses and gladiator competitions, as well as theatrical events, slave auctions and chances to consort with prostitutes.
These events continued through the Medieval Ages into modern times. Fairs highlighted the latest inventions, as well as the best livestock, foods, crafts and athletic competitors. They were opportunities for politicians, religious ministers, musicians and entertainers of all types to appeal to mass audiences.
Fairs have been celebrated in music, like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, State Fair, and the Simon and Garfunkel song, Scarborough Fair, as well as in the movie, Bridges of Madison County, and such literary works as Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Arguably, the most important celebrations are those of local young participants when they exhibit 4-H and FFA projects in an effort to win prizes.
An event that had a significant effect on my son occurred twenty-five years ago at our county fair. Jon was showing a cow/calf pair on the hottest summer day (Isn’t that the way fairs always are?) in his first year of 4H.
His Simmental cow, Stacey, though well accustomed to leading, was cantankerous in the heat. Her calf behaved nicely but Stacey wanted to head back to the cool shade of the cattle barn.
I jumped into the show ring to grab Stacey’s halter as she drug Jon around the arena. Crying as he left the arena when the judging was completed, Jon declared “I’m not doing this again.”
As we got back to our cattle stalls, Charlie and Larry, both veteran cattle showmen and fathers, approached Jon to say the cattle judge had nominated Jon for the junior showmanship contest that followed after all the cattle were shown.
Even though Jon protested, Charlie told Jon something he probably wouldn’t have accepted from me, “You have to go back in there so you get your confidence back.” Larry lent Jon a new show stick and showed him how to gently scratch Stacey’s belly.
At first with tears in his eyes, Jon led Stacey back into the cattle arena a few minutes later. She handled beautifully during the showmanship contest and Jon was declared junior 4H cattle showman.
And, Stacey and her calf did win the cow/calf show! Enjoy yourself at fairs this year.
Dr. Rosmann is a Harlan Iowa psychologist and farmer. Readers can contact Dr. Rosmann at the website www.agbehavioralhealth.com.
By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.