Growing up in Iowa, one of the last things I had left to look forward to before summer ended and school started up was the state fair – being from a state swamped in state fair tradition, this meant one of the largest in the nation.
Since 1841, when the nation's first state fair was held in Syracuse, New York, state fairs across the U.S. have served as a venue for competition, recreation, and a celebration of agriculture. While agriculture can, at times, be overshadowed by the grandstand concerts, fried food vendors, midway rides, and various other attractions, it still has a strong presence at state fairs across the U.S.
Take the Missouri State Fair for example. This weekend, the fair wrapped up with its "Harvest the Fun" theme for 2014. When the fair was first held in 1901, Missouri's population was two-thirds rural. Today, the majority of Missourians live in urban areas, myself included. According to the Missouri State Fair website, "This reversal of lifestyles is reflected dramatically in changes in exhibits, departments, and contests at the State Fair."
State Fair recognizes farm families
However, with this shift in the population, the Missouri State Fair hasn't lost touch with its roots. For the last 56 years, the fair has recognized farm families in its longstanding tradition, Farm Family Day. Local Farm Bureau boards and University of Missouri County Extension councils select a farm family from each county to receive honors before the fair.
Farm Family Day is sponsored and supported by Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Department of Agriculture, Missouri State Fair, University of Missouri Extension and the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
"We have a day set aside for farm families, but I wanted to try to do a little more this year," says Tammie Nichols, marketing and publicity director for the Missouri State Fair. "We look for new and different things each year and I wanted to do something to step up the focus of Farm Family Day."
Nichols came up with the idea for a new exhibit this year – Thank a Farmer for the Harvest, sponsored by MU Extension, in celebration of Extension's 100th anniversary.
Stepping it up a notch
The exhibit continues the tradition of honoring farm families, but for all 11 days of the fair. This exhibit recognizes these families, displays photos of them on their farms, and includes a map identifying specific agriculture production areas across Missouri, as well as facts about agricultural commodities.
"The Missouri State Fair is all about keeping the premise of the fair about agriculture. We want to honor that tradition and those folks that are out there every day producing our food and taking care of the land," Nichols says. "Really, the root of it all is farm families that are out there weathering the storm for us and sticking with it. I think everyone needs to pause and thank them every year, and this is the platform to be able to do that."
A full list of the farm families honored at the exhibit is available at the Missouri State Fair website.