The Indiana State Fair opens this
week. And in these days of intense political partisanship, economic turmoil and
social unrest, it's one of the few things Hoosiers can all agree upon. The fair
is good, clean, wholesome family fun and almost no one would disagree with
Unlike most other events, each
year's fair builds upon a rich history and legacy of years past.
The fair also signals the
beginning of the end of the summer and the start of the school year
approaching. It also pays tribute to Indiana farmers at a time when almost
nobody else — not the government, certainly, nor the general public —
has the inclination to do so.
I don't have to dig too deeply
into my memory banks to find plenty of Indiana State Fair memories lurking. My
mother and grandmother used to haul my sisters and me to the fair two or three
times a summer to see the livestock events, to eat the wide variety of fried
foods and to tour the exhibitor's hall, one of the few places with air
There's something about the fair,
no matter what dates it's held, that brings out the hottest and most humid out
of the Indiana summer. Even when our summers have been relatively mild, the
arrival of the fair ensures temperatures in the '90s. And in this year, where
it feels like the fires of hell have been unleashed from the sun, it promises
to be even hotter.
The fair goes on regardless of
the hot weather. It's bad for the people attending, even worse for the people
working there and one can only imagine what the farm animals at the fair must
be going through.
One of my most vivid fair
memories is of watching a cow give birth in 95-degree heat with an audience
watching her. She struggled mightily to deliver the calf while kids ate ice cream
and slurped lemon shake-ups. I felt so sorry for her.
But that experience also
highlights one of the great benefits of the fair: Its unique ability to bring
farmers and city folk together. From my experience, farmers hate city dwellers.
They're afraid of the city, afraid of being robbed and afraid of traffic. While
the traffic in Indianapolis is no match for that of Chicago, say, it's still enough
to freak someone out if they're not used to it.
And modern city people have few
if any ties to the farm. A century ago, most people made their living in
agriculture. It was the only way to assure your family had enough to eat, a
profession where there were always jobs and opportunities. Politicians had to
make sure they didn't piss off the farm vote.
It's a good thing that urban
residents get to meet the farmers and livestock producers, shake their hands
and ask them questions. A century of industrialization has removed the ties
that once existed between the cities and rural communities. We're much more
removed from the food we eat than we were in the days when we raised our own
crops and slaughtered animals for survival.
Farmers may be mistrustful of city
folk, but they're usually more than happy to take time to explain what they do
if you ask them respectfully. They're proud people and are grateful for any
signs of curiosity and gratitude shown them by urban residents.
Of course, the fair is also about
cotton candy, fried foods, carnival games and rides. One of the fondest
memories I have is from the 2006 fair, when my wife and I had first met, when
we took a long, romantic ride on the Ferris wheel. I have many fair memories
but that's the one that means the most to me.
There truly is something for
everyone at the Indiana State Fair. To get the most out of it, you have to
invest some time and know where you're going. The free smartphone
app for the fair looks excellent and provides a guide to all the exhibits and
The Indiana State Fair really has
no downside, except, perhaps, the toll it takes on your wallet. Finding the
best bargains and free events can relieve some of that burden. But even if you do
drop a lot of money at the fair, in the end, it seems worth it.
Now, more than ever, this
community needs something that brings us together and something that's
positive. The fair is a unifying, inspiring event that reminds us of our
agricultural past and shows us how much we have in common with the people who
help feed the world through their back-breaking work.
See you there.