Agriculture is at the forefront and part of the rich history of three of Oklahoma’s most iconic events. This means plenty of farm animals, food and learning opportunities.
Oklahoma Youth Expo
For almost a century, the Oklahoma Youth Expo (OYE) has been showcasing the top livestock in the state. Today’s OYE has grown substantially since the 1920s. It attracts more than 7,500 exhibitors from all 77 counties along with their educators and families. OYE is recognized as the state’s largest youth event and the world’s largest youth livestock show. Oklahoma City reaps an economic impact of $25 million over the course of the 10-day event.
Celeste Rule Nelson, the event historian, began working on the show in 1951. “I’ve seen it grow from a small operation to the wonderful, prestigious event it is now, all held in beautiful facilities,” Nelson says.
Initially, the event was held at the stockyards, but in 1958, the OYE moved to its’ current location in Oklahoma City. Throughout the years, buildings have been added and renovated, and lodging has cultivated around the fairgrounds to accommodate exhibitors, families and others associated with the event.
One highlight of the event is the Sale of Champions. This typically generates more than a million dollars for the scholarship program for Oklahoma 4-H and FFA members.
Deemed an elite organization in Oklahoma by Gov. Kevin Stitt, OYE delivers top ten results and it provides countless opportunities for students to reach their goals.
OYE Executive Director, Tyler Norvell, says, “Our goal is to build a successful future for Oklahoma by cultivating agriculture youth through the livestock show program.”
Tulsa State Fair
What began as a street fair in 1903 grew into an agricultural fair in 1913, and it continues to expand in today’s premier event. The evolution was made possible by visionary leaders and the donation of 240 acres of land in 1923 by Tulsa oilman J.E. Crosbie.
Today, more than one million visitors enter the gates of the Tulsa State Fair each year to see the animals, experience the competitions, sample the food and enjoy the entertainment. Some 15,000 exhibitors fill the fairgrounds with products and services.
Beginning the fourth Thursday after Labor Day, the fair has evolved over the years, but the commitment to agriculture has remained constant.
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Tulsa State Fair agribusiness manager, Brandi Herndon, says fair organizers are passionate about promoting agriculture to fair patrons.
She recalled a few years ago when a young boy saw some of the calves in the birthing center being bottle-fed. Veterinarians were there to answer questions, and the boy asked if the animal was a sheep.
“That’s why we do what we do,” Herndon says. “It’s why we have that exhibit, why we put together signage and spend the money to make the exhibit informative. It sounds so simple to us that we may take it for granted, but it is important outreach and education. Even if we just touch a handful of people like that boy, they walk away with a greater understanding of the important role of agriculture in their lives and that message spreads.”
Oklahoma State Fair
The beginning of the Oklahoma State Fair dates back to before Oklahoma officially became a state. As early as 1889, local fairs were held to introduce American Indians to new farming techniques and as social gatherings to attract urban residents into the city centers.
By 1892, the Oklahoma Territorial Fair Association was formed, but debt in the early 1900s and the Great Depression took a toll on the fair.
The 1950s and 1960s brought new leadership and investment. By 1975, attendance had reached the one million mark.
The Oklahoma State Fair gets better every year, says Scott Munz, vice president of marketing and public relations. He completed his 30th fair in 2018.
Munz has seen a lot of changes happen over the years, including new facilities, cleaner and safer grounds, top-notch musical acts, better food concessions, upgraded carnival offerings and relaxation areas, and comfort stations for patrons.
With all the bells and whistles, the Oklahoma State Fair still has an important agricultural component. AGtropolis is one of the most visited displays at the fair. It is an agricultural education adventure presented in a kid-friendly environment. This allows children a first-hand look at the farm-to-market process.
Munz says the state fair generates a special excitement, something he enjoys seeing for himself. “One of my favorite things to do on opening day is to sit near one of the gates and watch people come in and see the excitement on the kids’ faces,” he says.
That same excitement has been around for generations and will be for many more.