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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“Meet me at the fair, please” (speech: WA State Fair Association)

Annual Supers’ School
Washington State Fair Association
Ellensburg, WA
March 9, 1990

Thank you for having me here this morning. Welcome to Ellensburg and to the campus of Central Washington University. I come before you representing all Fair visitors in our state. And I’m here to say, “Thank you,” for them, and for me.

R C W 15 and 36 declare it to be in “the interest of the public good” to hold “agriculture fairs in order to train youth and to promote the welfare of farm people and rural living.” Additionally, the Washington State Fair Association was organized to “promote the development and interest in agriculture and home economics.”

In Washington State, our Fair network is run by citizen volunteers, called Fair Board Directors. Under the Fair Board Directors is a larger group of volunteers, and probably a more important group of volunteers, called Superintendents (affectionately know as “Supers”). The Supers are the Staff Sergeants of the Fair army in the State. And, there isn’t a Fair Board Director or Manager in the State that doesn’t recognize that you Supers are the key to a successful Fair festival. In fact, when I was contacted by the Fair Managers and Board members to speak to you I was told to make it good because you were the front-line managers of the Fair system, and therefore the Fair Boards wanted to show due appreciation. I told these Fair chiefs, “Look, I don’t know anything about operating a Fair. You need to talk to my Dad who was a Fair Board Chairman.” And they replied, “No, we want you precisely because you don’t know Fair operations. When you go to a Fair you go as a visitor, as an observer, as someone who is there to learn and to experience and to thrill and to wonder at all that you see. Come and tell these key people what an agriculture Fair means to you, a city dweller.”

So, I come before you to share some observations with you important people as one who is basically urban, but as one who, like many city dwellers, nevertheless, has frequented Fairs in Moses Lake, Yakima, Puyallup and, of course, Ellensburg. I go to Fairs to gawk: to loiter among the exhibits, to marvel at the animals and the critters, to “oh” and “ah” at the arts and displays, and to be made jealous at the demonstrations of physical dexterity and strength and prowess. Now, these are very personal reflections about how much I and my wife and two daughters appreciate Fairs, and the contribution Fairs make to our education and lives. And, of course, to the extent Fairs enrich our lives, YOU folks enrich our lives. But, let me share with you some objective, fundamentally crucial contributions all of you make to the Washington Way of life through the Fair system.

Returning to the RCW, it states that Fairs are to promote interest in, and appreciation for (1) agriculture and (2) home economics. It seems to me that you are front-line troops in preserving these two critical and beleaguered and endangered aspects of Washington life: (1) domestic values (home economics) and (2) agriculture literacy.

Let’s talk, first, about your contribution to preserving domestic (family) life habits and values in our state.

1. The Preservation of Domestic Values and Life in Washington State.

There is nothing abstract about what you organize during a Fair concerning the exhibition and demonstrations of arts and crafts as they pertain to home life in our State. You send forth the call into our rural communities for Washingtonians to bring their examples of domestic handicrafts for public display. You say, in effect, “Neighbors, now is the opportunity to strut your stuff.” You tell them, “We think what you do, young and old, male and female, to enrich and ennoble and enhance your home environment, what you do with your personal creative urges, with your domestic entrepreneurialism is important enough that we Supers, have dedicated some of our time and energy to help provide you with an opportunity to show off. To that end, we’re going to organize an annual home economics bazaar at which your efforts are going to be showcased. We want your best effort. We want you to put your best foot forward. We want you to show everyone how good you really are, because how good you are reflects on how good we all are because we’re from the same communities.” Now, it seems to me that’s what you tell the local folk every year when Fair time rolls around, by virtue of your volunteerism, your “1000 points of light.”

Furthermore, you Supers exercise the right, indeed the obligation, to reject any contribution which is not of high enough quality. Whether we’re talking of flowers or fauna or jams or baked goods or raising animals or sewing or crafts, or whatever it might be, your standard of excellence must be met. And, because there is that standard to meet, exhibitors from all walks of life in our communities know they must strive to do their best. And, because of that striving, because of that competition, the very skills and understandings and appreciations that are focused around the home environment are encouraged and rewarded. And all of us are reminded again of how much work and practice it takes to develop an excellent home environment. It doesn’t make any difference if one’s male or female, it’s the quality of one’s sewing, one’s floral arrangements, one’s cooking, one’s craftsmanship, one’s animal husbandry, one’s creativeness that is being judged. You are telling the young people of this state by your efforts, by your standards, by your commitments to them that those domestic skills which are so vital to the preservation of the Washington family — the basic unit of our society — that those fundamental proficiencies are an integral part of our society’s well-being and they are important enough that they ought to be done well and with pride.

As various segments of our society belittle family solidarity and seek to take away traditional family functions and mock domestic arts and crafts you are the folks that continue, year in and year out, to bring our communities back to an appreciation of what family arts and domesticity is all about.

From a grateful husband and father I say, “Thank you, and may God bless your efforts,” in this most important contribution you continue to make to our way of life here in Washington State.

Let’s turn our attention now to your contribution to agriculture literacy in our State.

2. The Preservation of Agriculture Literacy in Washington State.

Your additional charge from the people of this state, given through the R C W, is “to promote the development of and interest in agriculture.” In other words, try to keep us urbanites from being total agriculture illiterates. And that is not an easy job! The Federal government defines “agriculture literacy” as “an understanding of the food and fiber system including its history and current economic, social, and environmental significance to all Americans.” In a recent study funded by the US Department of Agriculture entitled, Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education (1988), it’s stated, “Most Americans know very little about agriculture, its social and economic significance in the United States, and particularly, its links to human health and environmental quality. Few systematic educational efforts are made to teach or otherwise develop agriculture literacy in students of any age” (p. 9). In another place in this study it states that about 1% of the nation’s labor force is production farmers supplying food and fiber for the other 99% (p. 52)! Furthermore, this 1% who are producing farmers create jobs for another 19% of the nation’s labor force in such occupations as food and fiber processing, food and fiber distribution, food and fiber retailing, food preparation, food and fiber marketing, (p. 22-23); and more recently, this 1% who are producing farmers are creating bureaucratic jobs for government regulators who want to regulate these very people whose efforts created the bureaucrats’ jobs in the first place, to say nothing of putting food on their tables!

In Washington State, the percentage of producing farmers is even smaller. Darrell Turner, State President of the Farm Bureau, estimates that less than 1%, about 7/10%, of our state population is producing the food for our tables and the fiber for our comfort.

Well, who do these producing farm families look to showcase their lifestyle and contribution to our State’s way to life? The Fair system! And who does the Fair system depend upon to organize and to promote this open-air classroom for agriculture? You, the Supers. When we urbanites need to vividly get the hands-on message that because of the efforts of a few, we many are free to not grow and raise our own food and fiber but rather spend our time and energies pursuing law, medicine, education, corporate business, the Arts, food retailing and restauranteuring, or even, governmental service — when we need to be reminded of that social, economic and technological fact, where do we go? To the Fair. Freed from the requirement of providing our daily food and fiber needs, the rest of us can think, create, invent and develop those things which make our State and our country so unique and which are the envy of the entire world. Where can we city folk mingle with and learn from and show appreciation to that 1% of our neighbors who raise our food and fiber, and thereby free us? At the Fair. And who arranges and maintains this open-air classroom of the Fair for us? You do!

What you Supers give us is nothing less than an open-air classroom where those in agriculture, and those not in agriculture meet and learn from each other a basic lesson in the food chain – where and how and from whom we get our food and fiber; Simplified education to be sure, but educational, nevertheless!

The attacks on the agriculture community from those who would regulate it almost out of existence are becoming more ferocious and determined. Only last week Rep. Margarita Prentice (D, Seattle) called farmers who use child labor in farm work, “economic predators, the moral equivalent of sexual predators.” She stated that the agriculture industry “exists on the back of children because the growers don’t want to pay adult wages.” And she said that children are being “exploited” and “used” by farmers. With this kind of irresponsible sloganeering being made in public, the responsibility often falls to you who are the front-line defenders to help publicly and simply present the true and good picture of hard-working, risk-taking, conscientious folk who are raising the food for our tables and the fiber for our comfort. I believe the education of the urbanite food consumer as to the importance of the rural food producer cannot and will not be accomplished without your efforts at Fairs across this State. You are the front-line forces in this critical struggle for recognition, respect and governmental restraint toward our rural way of life. We are more than the sandbox or the arboretum or the game preserve for the city dweller — we are their breadbox, their pantry!

CONCLUSION

With reading illiteracy running at over 20 per cent in America we simply can’t afford to entertain domestic skill illiteracy and agriculture illiteracy if we expect to continue to enjoy our God-given bountiful environment, and our heritage of self-reliance and independence. You Supers are vital in the educational effort to keep the flame of our Washington way of life alive. From a grateful citizen, Thank you!

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