I’ve visited the Ohio State Fair twice since becoming a newspaper reporter and once when I was a kid. In my first visit, which was at least 14 years ago, I honestly wasn’t impressed. It was a hot day, I was a young kid, and it seemed like everywhere my family went it took a lot of walking to get to, and the food and drinks cost about two-three times what they should have.

And the endless booths of literature and marketers did little to hold my interest. I like fairs because of the agricultural draw; not so much the commercial stuff, even though it’s important.

More interesting

But the past couple years, it seems like a different fair than what I remember. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve done some growing up and am twice as old now. I can appreciate displays about basement waterproofing and window replacement a lot more than I did when I was 12.

But I also think the fair organizers have made strides to make it more appealing, especially for all ages. I’m most impressed by the number and diversity of educational displays. In a broad sense, all the displays are educational and you can learn a lot just talking to a few 4-H members or their advisers.

And, in recent years, several displays have been added or expanded that teach young people and adults about where their food comes from.
I love the displays where kids can practice milking cows, watch cows give birth or check out the butter cow while learning more about Ohio’s dairy industry and drink a milkshake at the same time.

This year, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation partnered to provide the Ag is Cool program, and it’s impressive to see the many ways young people can learn about agriculture and food production with hands on events.

Reporting on the fair

I attended the fair two days this year, and I think that also helped me to have a better experience, because I was able to target specific events. The Ohio State Fair is big, and you’ve got to know what you want to see, and when it occurs, if you want to catch it.

My first day, I reported on part of the sheep shearing contest. It was the first shearing contest I had ever seen, and talking to the organizers taught me a lot of new things about how to shear sheep and how to do it fast.

On Aug. 7, I went back to the fair for the Sale of Champions. This is the grand finale for livestock exhibitors, because it’s where they’re rewarded financially for all their hard work and investments.

It’s good to see so many people support the sale, which not only benefits the sellers of the grand and reserve champion animals, but also the thousands of exhibitors who benefit from sale money that is distributed to 4-H and FFA programs.

Fair Manager Virgil Strickler commended the youth and their parents for their hard work prior to the sale. And Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee and OSU’s Ag Science Dean Bobby Moser, as well as Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, did the same.

Strickler said he was proud to boast the largest agricultural display among state fairs, and thanked the county fairs for their work, as well. Strong county fairs help make a strong state fair, he explained.

I think the state fair is a special event because it truly does bring together Ohio’s “best of the best,” as several officials repeatedly said, and at one location for one contest.

Enjoying both

The state and county fairs offer different, but similar things, and if you have the right perspective, I think you can enjoy both. The county fair is still the best place to bump into neighbors you know, and at my county fair, I know quite a few.

But the state fair provides a unique opportunity to meet and interact with folks from all over, and if you make a point of introducing yourself, you’ll make a lot of new friends. It can also be a lot of fun to attend a specific show or contest that you know will feature exhibitors from your home county. They need fans, especially this far away from home, and it’s fun to watch them represent you and the place you’re both from.

I think the state fair is worth attending, even if it takes a couple hours to get there. You may need to plan a little differently than when you go to your county fair, and you may not be able to attend every day. But when you learn how to plan for this thing, and how to get around and interact with the different people, you’ll find the award to be great.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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