At one point in our country’s economy and history, one in four jobs were related to agriculture in some way. Even in Indiana, we still have a large portion of our economy and jobs based in agriculture, whether they’re farmers and producers, sales and research in the ag companies in the state, or even people who have small gardens and plots in their back yard.
I took my family to the Indiana State Fair this past Sunday, and we were surprised by the size and scope of the place. It was an excellent reminder of how much our state contributes to the state and even the country’s food supply.
I had never been to the fair before, and I’ve lived in Indiana for 38 of my 42 years. We’ve been to county fairs when I worked in Kosciusko County, but the county fairs can’t hold a candle to the Indiana State Fair. Mostly because of the cow flatulence, but that’s another story.
I took my family into the Pioneer Our Land Pavilion, and checked out some of the different companies and government agencies related to agricultural life. We visited with a friend from the Board of Animal Health, watched some presentations about cockroaches and insects, and learned what Purdue University is doing in crop genetics research, veterinary science, and animal project. The kids got to take a knowledge quiz, and learned that our food doesn’t just come from a grocery store.
We then visited the Agriculture/Horticulture building (with a gorgeous backyard landscape by the Landscape Architecture program at Ball State University, my alma mater), talked to a beekeeper/honey producers and bought some bee pollen and honey, saw some brilliant sculptures built with Red Gold tomato product cans, and got to see some of the winners of the vegetable growing contests. I even learned that vegetable judges learn how to be good judges and will even go to judging contests where they get judged on their judging.
After a ride and dinner at the Indiana Beef Cattle Association (we made sure to do it in that order, for obvious reasons), my kids and I toured the cattle barn, and talked to some of the producers. My kids learned really quickly why they need to watch where they walk, but I realized you can tell the city folks from the country folks: the city folks look down at the ground, the country folks quit worrying about it years ago.
As I watched the farm kids and their parents around the barn, I remembered some of my days working in the agricultural marketing, spending time at expos and trade shows. I recognized the uniform of the teenage boys — boots, jeans in 100 degree weather, sleeveless t-shirt from a seed company or well-known tractor company, and a John Deere ball cap — and the girls — same as the boys, minus the cap.
I had a chance to reflect that these kids, these families, proudly displaying the results of their work for their fellow Hoosiers to see. I thought about their hot summers days and cold winter nights spent tending to their livelihood, while we’re in our air conditioned and heated homes and offices. I thought about their mounting debt and vanishing family farms. These people, these farmers are the reason we have anything to eat. They’re the reason my family and I can sit down to a nourishing meal each evening, or grab a bowl of cereal in the morning before running out the door to our comfortable workspace.
I realized the boys and girls had a confidence you don’t typically see in kids their age. Rather than worrying about whether they wore the right clothes, knew the right songs, or had friends, they were confident and strong. The boys didn’t just walk, they swaggered. These kids weren’t “in Indianapolis,” they were at the fair, their fair. This was their place, and we were their to honor them for their hard work. These people feed the world, and this is their time of year to remind us.
Please visit the Indiana State Fair before it ends, and see just what goes into the dinner you’re feeding your family tonight.