When I was a kid growing up in rural Ohio the State Fair was a really big deal. For one thing, it was for the WHOLE state, which back then seemed like most of the known universe. It was also in Columbus, which is not only the capitol, but was also 2 hours from my house, which would be an epic journey.
I only remember going once, but I’m sure I went more than that. Besides all of the things that one expects a kid to remember, like the rides and the rigged carnival games, I especially remember the agriculture displays. Thinking back I can recall the feeling of seeing some of the GIANT pumpkins and gourds, the vast barns filled with more hogs than I had ever experienced in one place and the biggest cows I had ever, or would ever, see in my life.
I am by no means a “farm boy” but I did grow up in the country and spent many summers on my Aunt and Unlce’s tobacco farm in Kentucky, so I’m at least comfortable in that environment and truly appreciate all the hard work that people have to put in to living it. Now that I have my own son that will most likely grow up as somewhat of a city slicker I want to make sure that he understands the way that other people live, and where his food comes from, so taking him to the Ohio State Fair seemed like a good place to start.
Enjoying some prize winning rabbits
This summer we scheduled a trip to see my family that still live in Ohio to coincide with the fair. My wife told me that she had been to state fairs before, but I assured her that the Ohio State Fair was THE fair of fairs. Frankly I’m not sure why that is, but as a kid I remember people saying that folks came from all over to go to our fair because it was the biggest and best fair in the country. In hindsight I’m thinking that every state says that.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited when we booked the trip. Not only to take my son, but also to go back myself since it has been at least 25 years since I had been to a state fair. And this fair did not disappoint.
Despite the fact that is was crazy hot, we found the fair grounds to be really enjoyable to stroll around, which was lucky because the complete lack of useful signage and a map that was not drawn to scale did not encourage thoughtful navigation. The State Parks & Rec Service had an entire corner of the grounds where they were teaching kids to fish, row canoes and grow vegetables, which I don’t remember and was really refreshing to see.
Where bacon comes from
After a brief consultation with my pregnant wife we elected to skip the “swap meet” section (another thing I don’t remember about the fair) and head straight for the live stock barns. It was the right call, and our son really enjoyed seeing all of the animals in person for the first time in his life. Granted, it was not a petting zoo environment, but I think it was actually better for him to see them and admire how majestic these animals were without being distracted by interacting with them.
After all that looking at animals it was time to cool off in the dairy pavilion and gawk at the butter cow. This year was some sort of anniversary of the fair so we also got a butter birthday cake, but really everyone was there for the cow.. and perhaps the air conditioning.
Fair food: Deep fried Kool-Aid
While I still feel like the rides and games are things that we can do anytime at Six Flags (and are better there), the “fair food” on the other hand is something that is a must. So after we cooled off we then headed to the midway to see what this year had to offer. Thoughts of deep fried butter, or perhaps deep fried Coke danced in my head, but it was the deep fried Kool-Aid that won out.
At first I was a little disappointed when she handed it to me, which is funny because I’m not sure what I thought it was going to look like, but somehow this was not it. However, after one bite I was back on board. The Kool-Aid was more of a hush puppy than what I was thinking, but to their credit it was indeed fried. The cherry flavored cakes were served hot from the fryer with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and covered in a thick cherry syrup. It was actually pretty amazing, and that kind of sweet that does not quite make you sick, but you are not craving anything else when you are finished (and required a tall glass of water).
Cousin hugging time
Finally, we joined my cousin and his wife that were going to watch her cousin’s daughter compete in a 4-H sewing/fashion show. As Project Runway fans we were expecting that kind of show, but as it turns out it was for pre-teens that had made outfits from patterns and were modeling their looks. The majority of people watching the show were farmers dressed in overalls, boots and looked as if they had been working in the livestock barns just prior to watching the show.
This was actually one of my favorite parts of the fair, which was surprising since I had been so excited to see the animals. As an artist and designer it was extremely refreshing to see kids using solid craft skills to make objects that they were so proud of. And none of them had the kind of attitude that is most often associated with fashion, fashion shows or is displayed nightly on reality TV. These were just kids that seemed genuinely happy about being there and were proud of what they had made. And likewise the parents seemed just as happy to be there, and it was really heart warming to see a men of 6’ 6” in overalls cheering for their daughter’s outfits.
Next year we are going to try the GA State Fair, which I’m sure will be great, but probably will not compare to the biggest and best fair in the country.