I have been attending county fairs for over 65 years in one aspect or another. There could be a misperception out there that county fairs are just for farmers. That is the furthest from the truth of any statement ever printed.
From the beginning of county fairs in Illinois it was a highlight of the summer for many families. Not only was there a place to exhibit the finest agricultural products produced, but it was also a time for families to spend a few days together having fun before vacations or staycations were ever heard of. That very thought still holds true today and you don’t have to look very far when entering the grounds of any county fair to see families in action whatever their interest may be.
County fairs are not just fun for our children they are an educational opportunity. Youth programs such as 4-H and FFA are very important to the future of agriculture. We need to ensure that future generations will be interested in agriculture when we baby boomers begin to retire. Agriculture is very important to the State of Illinois. We need to educate all generations of the importance of the crops that are raised and the animals that put the food on our tables. The need for food will never go away!
Not only do 4-H and FFA teach young people the importance of agriculture but they also learn about citizenship, parliamentary procedure, and public speaking as well as a host of other projects that teach life skills whether they choose a career in business or even the medical profession. All careers today center on computers, people skills and leadership. This all begins when they are eight years old and it becomes natural for them to talk in front of people about whatever their interest may be.
A recent economic impact study funded by the Illinois Extension Service, the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs showed that county fairs created $170 million each year to promote agriculture and family values. About $90 million was spent within the fairgrounds and the other $80 million was outside the fairgrounds in the local communities whether it be shopping, fuel, hotels, or other commercial services. This is a huge impact on most small towns especially in the southern part of the state of Illinois.
The economic impact study only touched on dollars spent and did not include the number of volunteers who spent time every year to help pull off these magnificent five day events doing whatever needed to be done from selling tickets to emptying garbage to parking cars. Usually the volunteers come back from year to year and look to the fair for a family reunion type of event. If fairs had to pay everyone needed to pull off these events they could not happen. It is unbelievable to me the number of volunteers who just can’t wait to come back no matter what the weather or how large the crowds; they serve faithfully and call it fun!
Since 2011 county fair funding has been steadily cut year by year. The monies received for premiums for exhibits are usually used to save for college or to purchase more projects for the following year. Either way this is very important to sustain the educational part of agriculture in
Illinois. There is no other way to be able to reach out to families about the truth of how food is raised, or livestock is fed in order to produce the best possible product on the plates of all Americans.
Although school funding, social programs and infrastructure are very important, county fairs are also very important. They serve a two-fold purpose of education and the basis for what it takes to feed the world. This is done with mostly volunteers year after year.
If you haven’t visited a county fair recently you should try it. I guarantee you will like it. For a list of Illinois county fairs and dates go to illinoiscountyfairs.org/fairs/fairs-date.asp.