County Fairs and Coming Days
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In rural America the county fair has been the high point of the year since the mid 19th century. In that time, America has changed enormously and now the day of the traditional county fair may be drawing to a close.
In the past the typical American lived in a farming community, ate food that they grew themselves and depended on their own resources for most of their entertainment. In 1900 farmers used more machinery and were more technically sophisticated than most city dwellers. Henry Ford was a farmer's son. In 1900 the American economy was driven by agriculture and, in late summer, the American farmers celebrated their productivity, their technology and their importance at their county fair.
Going to the county fair has been a tradition in my family for generations first with my parents at the Grant County Fair and later with my daughter at the Danbury Fair and I have seen the fair change through the years.
Today, even in places where agriculture is economically important, the majority of the population makes their living doing something else. They may come for an afternoon's entertainment but it isn't the high point of their year.
4H and FFA, organizations devoted to educating the next generation of farmers is still a big presence at the typical fair but the numbers keep falling.
The fair used to be about bragging rights. A place where farm families competed to show who could produce the best livestock, the biggest vegetables and the most skill in transforming their produce into appetizing food and useful articles.
Today these are all memories. No matter where we live today, we buy our food from California and our clothes from China. And in Grant County in 1900 entertainment meant driving 40 miles over bad roads to go to hear some local musicians play. The fair as it exist today does not really fit the lives we lead. .
Some things at the fair are evolving with the times. Quilting has become bigger than I remember. The quilt exhibit at the state fair was filled with entries of outstanding quality including some that definitely were not your grandmother's quilt. But we need more sources of creative energy like this.
Nothing lasts forever. Some things adapt to new circumstances and some things just fade away. I love the county fair, the displays of handcrafts, the 4H exhibits, the smell in the animal barns, and the livestock auctions. And I hope that the American county fair can adapt and thrive but many things will have to change if that is going to happen.
We are living in a different age and we need a different kind of county fair to go with it. Dwindling rural populations means we need to attract urban visitors. I suspect that the fair of the future will be about sustainable living, high quality over quantity, specialized and unusual kinds of crops and animals. On the farms and ranches around here ATVs are everywhere but you would never know that from the fair exhibits. Shouldn't we have an ATV show 'n shine or an ATV rodeo? Our high-end tractors are half-way to being autonomous robots. Wouldn't that make for some interesting exhibits and competitions? There is the whole world of solar, sustainable off-grid technology that needs a showcase. And then, in an agricultural event in a food-obsessed state, we need more to eat than corn dogs and fried candy bars. Where are the locavore food carts? I love the fair and want it to endure but there will have to be some changes for that to happen.