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Postcards from the Indiana State Fair

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Greetings from the Indiana State Fair, having a great time, wish you were here! Overall, I am not very imaginative when it comes to writing post cards. There is always too much to say and so little space to say it. I guess that is why I don’t tweet. As a member of the media, I am used to blabbing on and on; so picture postcards and 140 character tweets are just too confining. What follows is what I would have said in tweets, if they were longer, or on post cards, if they were bigger.

Indiana needs a new animal ID program. Not one that registers and identifies individual animals in case of disease pandemic or natural disaster; that program is working fine. No, we need a program that helps people identify what species of animal is in front of them. I just heard a lady call a duck a chicken in the poultry barn.  For most of those wandering through the hog and sheep barn, there is no knowledge that they are looking at different species of pigs and sheep. Horses are generally divided into two groups, “big’ and “little”.  Would it be too much to add basic animal identification to our school curriculum?

The real champions. Sunday evening at the fair provided an interesting juxtaposition. Outside the coliseum was a large jumbo television showing the coverage of games in Brazil. There was a crowd of fairgoers standing around munching on corn dogs and watching the television. Inside the coliseum, the Grand Drive was taking place. The competition inside was equally as intense and, to my satisfaction, the crowd inside was much larger the crowd outside. The 4-Hers competing in the ring had trained and prepared just as hard and long as the athletes in Rio; and the drama, emotions, and support of their family, friends, and the crowd in the stands was just as great. Too bad these young people don’t get the same media coverage and public acclaim.

There are two types of people at the fair. The first group comes to the fair to see what the fair has to offer.  These people walk through the exhibits; take in the many free shows; and, of course, eat some fair food.  The other group comes to be entertained. They spend much of their time riding the rides and eating the food.  Judging by the comments on the State Fair Facebook page, most of those in the first group enjoy their visit to the fair. Most of those in the second group leave bitter and disappointed, complaining about the price of everything and comparing the fair unfavorably to amusement parks like Kings Island or Six Flags. While I certainly wish we had more people in the first group attending the fair, the reality is our society is increasingly urbanized and entertainment dominated. What will the makeup of the fair be in 10 to 20 years?

We have come a long way baby. A CEO of a major Indiana agribusiness made the statement recently that he had not been to the fair in a long time. This was a bit of a shocking and worrisome admission in my book. But his point was that he was impressed on how much the fair had changed in terms of consumer education about agriculture. For some of us who attend the fair year after year, we may not really appreciate the real advances that have taken place in consumer education about agriculture.  As I think back to my first Indiana State Fair in 1985, I realize just how big some of our improvements have been. To the credit of the fair and the Hoosier ag community, we have come a long way in telling the story of agriculture at the fair.

Suggestions for next year. To my knowledge the State Fair does not have a suggestion box but it if did, here are a few things I would put in it:

Live animal selfies. Selfies were popular at the fair this year, and special places were set up for people to take a selfie. How about live animal selfies next year? Set up special places in the barns where you can get your selfie taken with a live animal.

Deep fried GMOs. A competition could be staged that requires that the food item to be deep fried must be composed of genetically engineered products. This would help dispel the myth the GMOs are bad for you.

Food Tent videos. Our commodity groups have produced some great video presentations. They are played in the Glass Barn, the Farm Bureau Building, and the Normandy Barn. But, how about moving them out where people are eating? What better time to talk about dairy farming than when someone is scooping up a Dairy Bar shake, munching a ribeye sandwich, or eating a pork chop?

By Gary Truitt