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Commentary: How to Visit the State Fair and Not Learn About Agriculture

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The Indiana State Fair, currently underway, is billed as the Showcase of Indiana Agriculture. The State Fair Board has worked hard to design experiences that will promote agriculture to the general public.  Indiana farm and commodity groups have invested millions of dollars to set up educational displays that help people understand where their food comes from.  Yet, surveys show that learning about agriculture is not why people come to the Fair.

Seeing the animals is one of the top reasons people come to the Fair, but seeing animals is also the reason people go to the zoo. Walking through the barns at the Fair will show you animals but will teach you very little about livestock production and from where your meat and milk come. It is surprisingly easy to spend a day at the Fair and to come away no wiser about the agricultural industry than when you went in. Here is how.

Spend a lot of time on the Midway.  While this experience has a lot in common with farming, you won’t realize it. Like most livestock farmers, when you play the midway games you will spend a lot of money but, in the end, have little to show for it but a fuzzy animal. Be sure to ride the rides.  You will have the thrill of soaring to dizzying heights and the gut wrenching  experience of deep dives, sort of like the soybean futures market.  Like a bull market, it will all be over too soon, and you will have far less cash in your pocket in the end.

There are certain buildings you can enter and others you should avoid if you want to not learn about agriculture. The Home and Family Arts building has really cool architecture and some amazing craft items. Just avoid the Make It With Wool exhibit. If you like high tech interactive displays, this building may not be for you.

The 4-H building on the northwest corner has great projects by youth from all over the state. Just be careful not to read some of the poster projects as they may contain information about farming. Other buildings to avoid if you want to avoid agricultural information include: the Glass Barn, Animal Town, The Normandy Barn, Little Hands on the Farm, Pathway to Water Quality, The Farm Bureau Building, the FFA exhibit, Ag Hort Building, and Pioneer Village.

Food is a major reason many people come to the Fair. The variety of offerings is amazing, so sample as many things as you can. While the beef, pork, and dairy, offerings at the Cattleman’s, Pork Producers, and Dairy Bar are tempting, avoid them or you will be exposed to agriculture because of the many posters and  placards on display that explain how your food was produced.

It is possible to visit the Fair and not be exposed to agriculture, but it takes some planning.  That is because so much time and money has been spent to try to educate the average consumer about the food they consume each day. Exactly why you would want to visit the Fair and avoid exposure to agriculture is beyond me. Food, fiber, and fuel production are essential to our state’s economy and to our daily lives.  That is why so much effort has gone into educating people about food in an understandable and entertaining way. Getting people to pay attention to this education is a challenge. Maybe we could give people a test with prizes when they left the Fair about what they learned about agriculture?

So while you can spend a day at the Fair and be no wiser about the food you eat, I don’t advise it.  Some basic, accurate, information about the food you purchase is important for everyone. A visit to the State Fair is a way to gain some knowledge and to have fun at the same time.