Agricultural Fairs

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. It is October – time for some of America’s thousands of agricultural fairs. Today we visit several of these yearly events.

All you need to enjoy yourself at an agricultural fair is a sense of history and a spirit of fun.

Music immediately surrounds you as you start your visit. It might be country music. Or it might be rock and roll, rap or heavy metal. You can go and enjoy the music. Or you can try the rides.

Children laugh and shout on the Ferris wheel ride. Older boys and girls are holding hands as they reach the top.

You can see dogs guiding sheep together into herds. You can watch horses giving birth, or llamas jumping like great Olympic athletes. You can look at new home products or farm equipment. At some fairs, you can watch cars race – or crash into each other on purpose at events called demolition derbies.

Or maybe you just want to walk around and watch other people.

It is easy to find a fair to attend in the United States. Several thousand such events take place. Almost all fifty states have a fair. They usually are held in August, September or October. Some fairs last up to three weeks. Local counties also hold fairs. Or several counties will join to organize a fair.

Come with us now to the event known as America’s first fair. The York Fair in York, Pennsylvania, was first held in seventeen sixty-five. That was eleven years before the United States became a nation.

Now that you are here, we hope you are hungry. Eating is one of the most important activities at a fair. People compete to prepare the best foods. Judges choose the best dishes, like pies and cakes. Then you can buy them.

Over there are waffles, a kind of cake prepared in a special iron heater. The waffles have ice cream and fruit on top. Try some. Not too far from the waffles are custards, sweet puddings made of milk and eggs. And you can also buy cotton candy. This candy is made from colored liquid and lots of sugar.

After you pay, the seller will hand you the candy on a paper stick. You try to chew it with your teeth. But cotton candy seems to disappear in your mouth. You are left with a mouthful of air and a very sweet taste.

But you do not want to eat just sweet food. The York Fair also has salty pretzels. A pretzel is kind of bread shaped like a loose knot.

And there are baked potatoes with all kinds of toppings.

Like most such events, the York Fair is holding competitions for the best farm animals. More than ten thousand animals compete for awards at the nation’s biggest fairs. Farmers whose animals win prizes can sell them for a lot of money. Young winners sometimes use the money to go to college.

Many children and young people whose animals compete at state and country fairs belong to group called the Four-H Clubs of America. The term Four-H means head, heart, hands and health.

Millions of young Americans take part in group activities. Many of them complete projects like raising and caring for a horse, cow or other animal.

Some of the animals that people see at the York Fair are not traditional farm animals. Sea lions perform, and a beekeeper brought almost two thousand of the insects to show and talk about. In the fair’s Horticultural Hall, he explained how the bees produce honey.

Some competitions at the York Fair are funny. For example, there is judging for the strangest looking vegetable. This year, the award went to two carrots that grew together. They looked like a big orange pretzel.

Many people commented about the winner of the competition for the biggest pumpkin. This orange fruit grows on a vine and is a traditional part of the Halloween celebration in late October. York’s winning pumpkin this year weighed four hundred fifty kilograms.

York Fair’s animal races are also organized in the spirit of fun. You can watch pigs racing each other. Or, there are also duck races. But you may have to wait awhile to see who – or what – wins. This is because the competitors sometimes do not run in a straight line.

One of the rides at the York Fair is a mechanical bull. This device looks like a male cow. It tries to throw off any rider who gets on. If riders can stay on for one and one-half minutes, they can take home a big toy animal.

One of the most unusual shows at the fair is called “Masters of the Chainsaw.” In a performance lasting less than one hour, more than ten artists create sculptures from wood. They use only the sharp teeth of chainsaw cutting tools to produce these artworks.

Like many other American fairs, the York event has some famous entertainers. This year, the star performers included Kid Rock, the country group Lonestar, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Clay Aiken. This young singer became famous on the “American Idol” television program.

Entertainers are not the only well-known people who attend fairs. Officials and political candidates often visit fairs, especially during elections years. Both local and national candidates speak to the crowds, shake hands and kiss babies.

For example, President Bush recently campaigned at the Farm Progress Show, a fair in Iowa. His Democratic opponent for president, Senator John Kerry, visited the Iowa State Fair.

Food and animals are important parts of American agricultural fairs. But some people attend fairs especially to watch the car races. The DuQuoin State Fair is famous for such competition.

The fair opened in nineteen twenty-three in southern Illinois. Exciting auto racing has been part of its events since its early days. At first, the racers competed on a track of one point three kilometers. People watched from a seating area made of wood. At the end of World War Two, building began on a track of more than one and one half kilometers. A new area for people to sit in also was added.

The organizers of the famous Indianapolis Five Hundred Mile Race recognized DuQuoin’s possibilities for major racing. By nineteen forty-eight, the American Automobile Association had awarded the DuQuoin track two national championship races. Today, people come from far away to watch the car races at the Illinois State Fair at DuQuoin.

American fairs follow some of the traditions of fairs held in Europe in the eighteenth century. But the International Association of Fairs and Expositions says fairs took place long before that. The association says these events were held more than two thousand five-hundred years ago.

The Latin word feria, written f-e-r-i-a, means holy day. This may have been the root of the word fair. It meant a time when many people would gather for prayer. Some of the biggest fairs were in the ancient cities of Athens, Ninevah and Tyre.

History played a big part in the recent New York State Fair. A Carriage Museum exhibited more than fifty vehicles pulled by horses. People acted the part of workers who made shoes for horses.

Visitors saw a camp like the ones cowboys had in the eighteen-eighties in the American West. American Indians demonstrated traditional dances and food preparation. Visitors were invited to taste the food. At the New York State Fair, like other American agricultural fairs, there was no reason why anyone should go home hungry.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. To send us e-mail, write to [email protected] And listen again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.