August 6, 2012
State Fair is an Experience for All the SensesBy Ken Gordon
One of the best ways to experience sensory overload is to visit your state fair. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and things you can feel are once-a-year musts. If you have ever experienced a state fair, you know the feeling. From the puffy feel of cotton candy melting in your mouth, to a stroll through the livestock barns, a visit to your state fair can provide an experience unmatched by any other annual event. Plus, it’s a great way for people from all walks of life to experience agriculture.
The first sense that may be overwhelmed is sight. The size of many state fairs can take some by surprise, and if possible you might try to find a tall building or catch a ride on the Ferris wheel to capture a panoramic view. But like most experiences, the fun is in the details you find while exploring the massive event.
One of the most alluring details is food. There always seems to be a new food item to enjoy, usually found on a stick. It seems that if you can put something on a stick and deep fry it, you’ll find it at the state fair. A search for a deep-fried Twinkie on a stick was elusive, but at this year’s Ohio State Fair, a quest for a culinary delight called the Muddy Pig was successful. At first glance, the thought of chocolate-covered bacon on a stick wasn’t necessarily enticing. But, it’s the state fair, so why not? The Muddy Pig was a surprisingly tasty delight. Who knew?
Many state fairs boast some claim to fame. Indiana’s features the world’s largest hog contest. While held at the Indiana State Fair, hogs from anywhere in the world are eligible to compete. The Hoosier state has the advantage though, because trucking a 1,200-plus pound hog any great distance is an arduous task – plus hogs tend to lose some weight while traveling, giving locals an unfair advantage. The folks running the event know this too, those crafty Hoosiers.
In the northeast, the Bangor State Fair in Maine features a Paul Bunyan lumberjack show, plus an experience with grizzly bears and wolves. It might be tough to imagine a lumberjack show in Nebraska, but the featured pig races in the Cornhusker state would be a must-see event.
Most state fairs are held in the late summer or early fall, but some begin earlier in the year when it’s a little cooler. It’s understandable that many of the early fairs can be found in the South. Florida holds its state fair in February and Georgia’s kicks off in April.
For sheer size, the Texas State Fair takes top honors, boasting an annual attendance of 2.5 million, but it is one of the longest running fairs, lasting almost the entire month of September. The Minnesota State Fair holds the honors for the highest daily attendance numbers, but that fair has an unfair advantage – the Minnesota fair mascot, Fairchild the Gopher. You won’t find him on a stick.
Aside from the midway with its obvious over-the-top flashing lights and colorfully tattooed characters, fairs also feature the latest technologies found in a state. At the industry and merchant displays some of the most innovative ideas for the home, garden or farm can usually be found. Where else would you expect to find a head massaging device that looks as if it’s from an alien spacecraft? Other labor-saving inventions can be found at such exhibits, as well as cooking demonstrations touting the latest in kitchen technology.
Fun of a different kind can be experienced in the livestock barns and arenas. Watching the judging of animals entered by 4-Hers vying for the Grand Champion steer, market lamb, hog or other farm animal is a spectacle unlike any other. This is serious business. At last year’s Oklahoma State Fair the Grand Champion steer was purchased for $40,000.
Ken Gordon, a native “crafty Hoosier” and state fair fan, is an occasional contributor to the Focus on Agriculture series. He is an ag PR consultant in Ohio.