Agricultural Fairs

Every year in summer and early autumn, more than one-hundred-million people visit agricultural fairs in the United States. I'm Mary Tillotson. And I'm Steve Ember. This celebration of America's agricultural past is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

People can do many things at an agricultural fair. They can see animals racing. They can see sheep getting their wool cut. They can watch cows being milked. They can watch horses jumping like great Olympic competitors. Visitors also can look at new home products or farm equipment. They can see products made by people who live on farms.

Children and adults can go on rides that go very fast or travel high above the fair grounds. They can play games of skill. They can listen to people play and sing all kinds of music. Or, people can just walk around the fairgrounds and eat tasty food.

It is easy to find an agricultural fair to attend. Almost all fifty American states have a state fair. Parts of states called counties also have fairs. They take place in August, September or October each year. They last for one, two or three weeks. Agricultural fairs help Americans remember their nation's history. One-hundred years ago, most Americans lived outside cities in farm areas. Today, more than eighty percent of the population live and work in city areas. Many people learn about animals they would never see except at agricultural fairs. Experts say such fairs are important because people need to remember that they are connected to the Earth and its products. They say people need to remember that they depend on animals for many things.

Some people say you are not at a real fair unless you can smell the animals. Most fairs have competitions for the best farm animals. More than ten-thousand animals compete for awards at the biggest state fairs. People who live on farms raise the animals. People 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 county fairs belong to a group called the Four-H Clubs of America. The expression Four-H means head, heart, hands and health.

Four-H offers the largest unofficial education program in the United States. About five-million young people take part in activities organized by the group. Many of them take part in projects like raising and caring for a cow, pig or other animal.

Many Four-H members and their animals took part in the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair last month. The fair was held in Gaithersburg, Maryland, near Washington, DC.

In one building, Four-H members prepared their dairy goats for judging. The goats were entered in milk production competitions. The physical condition of an animal often shows how long it will be healthy and produce large amounts of milk. Goat producers use this information to help improve the physical condition and health of future animals.

Visitors to a state or county fair should arrive hungry. Food is as important as animals at these fairs. Thousands of people take part in competitions to prepare the best foods. For example, baked goods such as cakes and pies are judged and sold at these events.

Farm families sell breads made at home. They also make sweet jams and jellies to put on the breads. These jams and jellies are made from apples, berries, oranges or other fruits.

Many others kinds of food are sold at state and county fairs. One popular food is the corn dog. It is a hot dog on a wooden stick. It is covered with cornmeal and then cooked in hot oil. Another popular food also cooked in hot oil is called a funnel cake. However, it is really a kind of bread.

Cotton candy sold at fairs is especially popular with children. It is made of sugar that is spun very fast. Then the spun sugar is gathered around a paper stick. Cotton candy looks like a big pink cloud of cotton. Children always seem to get it in their hair.

Modern American fairs probably developed from fairs that began in the early nineteenth century. Some historians say a man named Elijah Watson first had the idea for a state fair in the United States. He organized a small sheep demonstration in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in eighteen-oh-seven.

Other people say New Jersey and New York held the first state fairs in the eighteen-forties. Other early state fairs were held in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Today, the New York State Fair in Syracuse is the biggest one in the northeastern part of the United States. Last year, more than one-million people visited that fair. This summer, the fair showed the best of New York state's agriculture, education, industry, technology and entertainment. There were also water shows with sea lions and sharks. And there were car races. The New York State Fair also had an Iroquois Indian village to show how Native Americans lived in the state long ago. In the evenings, there were performances by famous singers and groups.

However, the largest state in the United States also has the largest state fair. The Texas State Fair in Dallas starts next week and continues for more than three weeks. There will be more than sixty rides for adults and children. There will also be a small farm for children. Visitors will be able to watch a college football game. Every night, there will be a huge show of fireworks, water, music and light. And every night there will be a parade. Visitors also will be able to attend a two-day Big Tex Music Festival.

State and county fairs are important to many Americans. They provide many kinds of information. Farm families teach visitors about their way of life. Political candidates often attend state and county fairs to speak directly to American voters.

Businesses use fairs to sell products or services. Many businesses and government agencies were represented at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. In one small area, for example, visitors could buy sweet foods, playthings for children and objects for the home. They also could find people interested in talking about Christianity, local history and farming.

One area offered many publications from the Maryland Department of Agriculture. For example, the publications described how to use fertilizers safely or how to raise horses.

Visitors to the Montgomery County Fair had many other activities to choose from. There were animal shows with live tigers. For something a little more traditional, boys and girls could ride on young horses. The children also could feed other farm animals, including a llama and a pot-bellied pig. Nearby, children and adults enjoyed a performance by Chinese acrobats. The acrobats demonstrated unusual skill at balancing objects spinning on sticks.

People of all ages visited an exhibit called the Great American Railway. Model trains may be only a few centimeters high, but many look real. Several model trains traveled in a big circle through a series of make-believe mountains, rivers and towns. The exhibit included a small version of the fairgrounds, complete with small rides and animals.

Some non-profit groups raised money at the Montgomery County Fair. Habitat for Humanity, for example, sold chances to win a prize. The winning ticket was chosen on the final day of the fair. Any additional money raised will help the group in its efforts to build houses for poor people.

As night arrived, many visitors began to feel tired. Some were happy to sit and watch a show in the grandstand area. On some nights, country music singers performed. On other nights, there were bull-riding competitions and demonstrations of powerful farm equipment. The crowds also enjoyed three nights of "demolition derbies." Tired but happy people cheered wildly as they watched cars crash into each other. As the day ended, people of all ages seemed to enjoy their time at the county fair.

This program was written by George Grow. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another program about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.