A mile-long midway, a state-of-the-art equine center and even a booth where more than 100,000 biscuits are made are just a few highlights of the Mississippi State Fair, which has grown substantially since it was founded in 1859. In its current location in Jackson since the late 1800s, the state fair remains grounded with its agricultural roots while welcoming an increasing number of fair-goers. “It’s by far the largest fair in the Deep South,” says Billy Orr, former Mississippi Fair Commission executive director who retired from the position in 2014. The Fair Commission oversees the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, a 105-acre facility in Jackson that is home to the Mississippi State Fair, the Mississippi Coliseum, the Mississippi Trade Mart, the Kirk Fordice Equine Center, the Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo, and the state’s youth and livestock showing arenas. “Over the years, the fair has expanded from being very small, probably around 200,000 (attendees), to over 700,000,” Orr adds. “It used to be a seven-day fair and is now 12 (beginning the first Wednesday in October).” The Kirk Fordice Equine Center, considered to be the most modern livestock facility in the South, stays busy throughout the fair. Horses and livestock are also shown at nearly a dozen other barns on the fairgrounds, giving visitors the opportunity to view and even touch the myriad of livestock. “It’s a big attraction for the kids in towns, even the small, rural towns,” Orr says. “They think milk just comes from the stores, so they’re tickled to come here and walk through the barns and touch the animals.” Other agricultural attractions include a collegiate dairy contest, FFA children’s barnyard, 4-H showcase, petting zoo and 4-H Day. Orr says the fair’s oldest exhibit, outside of livestock, is arts and crafts, which includes homemade items such as canned foods and quilts.
The Dixie National event, held at the state fairgrounds in Jackson in late January to early February, is the largest livestock show and rodeo east of the Mississippi River. The wide range of livestock shows gives both youth and adults plenty of educational opportunities. In fact, many families across the state consider it quite the tradition. Take the family of Tim Roberts, for instance. The 42-year-old farmer and rancher from Petal, Miss., has been showing livestock at the event since he was a teenager. Roberts followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, and now his 17-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter are showing as well. “I’m not sure if my grandfather and father have been to all of them, but they’ve been to a lot,” Roberts says. “To me, the Dixie National is the top of the line. It’s the main place where you want to win. If you have a calf that goes up there and places first or second, you’ve done something.” The Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo has launched the success of some of the country’s best rodeo competitors since it was first held in 1965. It’s also known for its Rodeo Queens, two of whom have gone on to be named Miss Rodeo America. Paige Nicholson, 2012 Miss Dixie National, was Miss Rodeo America in 2014. Kelli Russell was named Miss Dixie National in 2004 at the age of 17 and was later named Miss Rodeo Mississippi in 2009 and Miss Rodeo America in 2010. She says her family has been attending Dixie National for years. “For anyone who goes to the Dixie National, they’re first and foremost going to a world-class rodeo,” she says. “They are going to see the great names in the sport of rodeo. “It is a fun, family-centered atmosphere, but it’s world-class competition at the same time.”