As a country girl, I’m a big fan of fairs. I like the horse shows, rides and concerts. I have a special affection for funnel cake. I have fond memories of working at the FFA’s (formerly the Future Farmers of America) Circle of Life exhibit, which showcased chicks, calves and other baby animals, at the Ingham County Fair in Mason, Michigan. The Webberville Chapter of the FFA even made the trip to the Michigan State Fair in Detroit once to man a small exhibit for the Farm Bureau. The State Fair was large, loud and it smelled of hotdogs and cherry slushies.
But the Michigan State Fair, which has existed for about 160 years, probably won’t be back this summer. The fair lost state support last year and plans to lease the land to other organizations have stalled. With all the delays, it seems as though the State Fair won’t take place this year. But the state fair is a valuable cultural exhibition, and the more time that passes without progress, the less likely it seems that the fair will ever take place again. But if Michigan agricultural organizations band together, they could save the State Fair.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm cut state funding to the fair last year in an attempt to save the government money. On one level, I can’t fault her for making cuts. Michigan’s projected deficit for the 2011 fiscal year is an astonishing $1.8 billion. And I’m not even that ticked that she chose the State Fair to get the ax. That’s because I think that the State Fair could get funding from other sources with relatively little trouble.
The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority has said that it would be interested in acquiring 120 acres of the fairgrounds, according to a report on Saturday by The Detroit Free Press. The Authority would turn some of the grounds into a year-round park and run the fair in the summer. But, according to a report by The Detroit News on Saturday, the Authority must submit a proposal for use of the land to the state by the end of April to obtain the land. The clock’s ticking. And the Authority has already said that it doesn’t think the State Fair will make it off the ground this year. But the longer the wait before the Authority submits its plans, the more I worry that the Fair will never happen again. And I don’t think that’s okay.
Michigan residents often forget that agriculture is the state’s second largest industry. Though Michigan is home to several densely-populated areas like Lansing and Detroit, much of the state is actually rural. And it makes millions of dollars each year producing dairy products, cherries, blueberries, asparagus and pickling cucumbers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2007 Census of Agriculture, Michigan farms employ 86,000 people and pay out $607 million to workers. And even though students here at the University of Michigan love to mock it, Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture actually makes a lot of sense in a state that depends so heavily on agriculture.
The State Fair is a venue to showcase that part of Michigan’s culture. Of course, fairs are also the best place to eat too much junk food and ride the tilt-a-whirl until you get nauseous. But the State fair gives people who aren’t familiar with Michigan’s agriculture industry an opportunity to see award-winning cows and pigs and check out exhibits by Michigan growers. It’s a learning opportunity and a place for Michigan farmers to show what they do for this state. The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority should work with Michigan agricultural organizations to revive plans for a state fair.
If a group of agricultural sponsors worked together to fund the State Fair this year, they could have a place to show their wares and get some advertising in, too. The Michigan Department of Agriculture’s website lists a host of organizations ranging from the Michigan Farm Bureau to the Holstein Association to the Sod Growers of Michigan. Any of these groups could contribute to sponsorship of the fair. The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority should look into finding sponsors from organizations like this to make sure that the fair happens next year.
Because most of Michigan’s county fairs don’t appear to be in danger of closing before they open, I’m probably still going to get my funnel cake this summer. And my mother will probably enter some cherry jam and pickled asparagus in a fair somewhere. But the State Fair was a celebration of the industry that keeps so many Michigan families fed. And agricultural organizations should work together to keep that celebration alive.
Rachel Van Gilder is the Daily’s editorial page editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.