I have long loved the Illinois State Fair. By the time you read this, our camper will likely be on its way to Springfield and the livestock trailer shortly thereafter. My family showed in the open Shorthorn show there all throughout my youth and I can testify that very many moons ago, I listened to Michael Damian sing "Rock On" from my cot on the straw rack of our livestock trailer, the night before the open show. I have lots of good memories and good friends, thanks to the state fair.
My enthusiasm has tempered over the past few years, though. Less ag, a pain-in-the-butt experience for exhibitors, and a general feeling that no one really cared about either livestock or ag, and it was all just a giant concrete carnival with concerts. I give great credit to whoever came up with Conservation World because it's brilliant and kids clamor to go there, but I've always wondered: why isn't there an Agriculture World? How did we miss that boat?
So when Philip Nelson was named ag director some months ago, we all raised our collective eyebrows and grasped on to the tiniest bit of hope. His kids exhibit livestock, he has exhibited livestock and I've tooled around the fairgrounds with him on a golf cart enough to know he wasn't happy with the state of affairs either.
I will tell you, I've hardly been so energized about something as I was after I got off a phone interview with Director Nelson last month, talking about the Illinois State Fair and all the changes afoot.
First of all, he's moving the champion drives for steers, barrows, wethers and meat goats to the old Coliseum at 4 p.m. on Saturday. (I showed there as a kid! It's hot but I still love it!) Governor Rauner will be on hand to congratulate the winners, and Rita Frazer will emcee the whole shebang, sharing information about the breeds and types, and interviewing kids and parents about their animals and what it took to get there. May all the non-farm fairgoers come in to watch this. Please. From our lips to God's ear.
Just east of the Coliseum, they're replacing the high-dive show with an Ag Tent. They'll show Illinois Farm Families videos on a jumbotron, have farmers on hand to talk with fairgoers, and have ag tech demos throughout the fair. Look for the drones; they'll be there.
They've got new scales for the livestock shows, and I'm neither kidding nor exaggerating when I say that everyone I've talked to is seriously excited about the bathrooms opening up in the junior barn this year. It's the little things, people.
More on that later but for now, I will say this: ag is back at the state fair, baby. It's gonna be great.
Stay tuned for more "See You at the Fair" posts, sharing new developments and behind-the-scenes stories of the Illinois State Fair.