Summer signals the start of county fairs across Oklahoma, and there’s a whole lot more to them than carnival rides, funnel cakes and cotton candy. County fairs are also great places to learn about agriculture in a fun, interesting and hands-on way.
“In the United States, county fairs began as a way for local farmers to compare their production methods with everybody else’s,” says Charlotte Richert, Tulsa County OSU Extension director. “They also allowed people to compare and evaluate domestic skills like baking, sewing and canning, and that’s still a rich tradition today.”
Because most Americans nowadays are three or four generations away from the farm, many know little about agriculture. County fairs provide opportunities to see it up close, whether it’s by attending a livestock exhibition to hear about raising an animal, watching the milking of dairy cattle, or visiting open-class agriculture exhibits to hear judges critique vegetable crops, field crops, flowers, herbs and honey.
“Sometimes people don’t associate fairs with agriculture if it’s not part of their daily lives,” Richert says. “We try to make that connection for them by showing that things we use every day are related to agriculture, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear and the plants all around us.”
There are lots of ways you can get involved in your county fair, even if you’re not a farmer. Consider attending a swine, sheep, cattle or horse show, or show off your best photography or culinary skills by entering a contest. Contests vary by county, but categories often include culinary, home improvement, photography, horticulture/gardening, textiles, food preservation and clothing to name just a few.
Richert suggests visiting your local OSU Cooperative Extension office (there is one in each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties) to pick up a county fair book, which has details on contests, entry procedures, rules and regulations specific to your county. Many counties also have that information online. Youth can get involved further by joining a 4-H Club or FFA chapter.
“In Oklahoma, county fairs are qualifying events for our state fairs in Tulsa and Oklahoma City,” Richert says. “With our 4-H exhibits for example, judges award every entry a place, and the first-place items represent their county at our two state fairs.”
No matter how you choose to participate, you’re sure to make lasting memories.
“Historically, fairs were social events people looked forward to every year, and that continues today,” Richert says. “I grew up exhibiting at the county fair, and those are my fondest memories. It’s a good old-fashioned, wholesome atmosphere that still has the ability to draw people together.”