Going to the Wisconsin State Fair was a regular summer tradition growing up. The event is held in West Allis, which sits next to Milwaukee, and we lived only 35 minutes away. I loved seeing the animals, having a cream puff and going through the expo halls to see what kind of free stuff I could score (pens and paper pads – always a big hit!). I grew up, moved away and had children of my own, but the state fair is still something we like to do every summer – even though it’s now two hours away. My children love the same things I did – seeing the animals, the food and trying to score free stuff.
But since I began working in ag journalism, I have a new appreciation for the State Fair – I see the children and families dedicating more than a week of their time to bring their animals to the fair to exhibit. They spend countless hours getting ready and hope to head home with a blue ribbon.
For many people, state fairs are the only time they see farm animals up close and talk with farmers, making it an ideal time to educate consumers about what life on the farm is really like.
At the Wisconsin State Fair, the Wisconsin State Fair Dairy Promotion Board lined up daily activities to help people learn more about farming.
Four times a day, they held a milking demonstration that also featured a speaker who talked about the milking process and answered questions.
“For some people, this is the first time they’ve seen a cow milked,” said Nicole Barlass, who serves on the Wisconsin State Fair Dairy Promotion Board. “It’s amazing how people are excited to see what’s going on.”
Barlass admitted most fair attendees come from an urban setting so they don’t understand what farmers do on a daily basis.
“It’s really eye opening for some people. I know that sometimes it seems like people are quick to attack farmers, but at the fair the people we’ve met are open to learning about what happens on a modern dairy farm,” she said.
Wisconsin isn’t alone in celebrating its farmers, of course. The Indiana State Fair – a 17-day extravaganza – called this year’s event the Year of the Farmer and celebrated how farmers provide everyone with food, fuel and fiber.
Minnesota’s State Fair bills itself as one of the best attended and largest ag exhibitions in the world.
The Iowa State Fair in Des Moines attracts a million people annually.
State fairs are a tradition across the Midwest. Let’s hope they continue their focus on agriculture and educate consumers about modern farming.