The beginning of another Ohio State Fair means fun-filled days and the making of many great memories for families all across Ohio. In addition to a place to enjoy lemon shake-ups, brave the midway rides, and find the most recent deep-fried treat to be tried, fairs also play a vital role in the future of our state. Fairs help educate the public about the importance of agriculture, and they support another cycle of youth involvement in responsible food and agriculture production.
One of the best things about the State Fair, and our county and independent fairs, is that they are still largely focused on agriculture. One can veer off the midway and walk through the barns on any fairground and is guaranteed to see one common factor: young people caring for their animals. Many fair visitors have never seen a livestock animal before, so when they walk through the barns they get a true, first-hand look at the relationship exhibitors have with their livestock. These responsible young people clean and groom their show animals, they make sure they have appropriate food and ample water, and make sure they are in top condition for the upcoming livestock show.
Livestock auctions offer real-life lessons on the benefits of hard work and dedication. The equation is simple: the better job you do raising and taking care of your animal beforehand, the more money you can make in the auction ring. That money is oftentimes used for future college expenses or purchasing and breeding better show stock. You can bet the good practices these kids are learning now to make them top dollar in the show ring are going to stick with them when they produce food for the masses on a much larger scale.
Today’s farmer knows this same equation applies in the real world of food production. Our producers use care standards for animals that have been crafted and approved by a diverse scope of interested and knowledgeable parties, including veterinarians. Farmers take care of the land and their livestock, not only because it is their livelihood, but also because it is the right thing to do.
Never has it been more imperative for youth in the show ring to become the next generation of food producers. The United Nations forecast that the world’s population will increase from 7.2 billion today to 8.1 billion in 2025. By 2050, it will reach 9.6 billion. We’re always going to need more food, milk and agricultural products. As the population grows and science continues to find even more uses for our crops and livestock, the importance of agriculture in our lives is going to continue to become more intertwined.
The fair is here for only a short time every year, but its positive effects will resonate for a lifetime. As I walk the aisles of the animal barns on the fairgrounds, the accomplishments of every young person is palpable. Our fairs do an outstanding job at helping to keep kids involved in the most important industry in our state – food and agriculture. Youth exhibitors do an equally outstanding job of educating consumers about the importance of agriculture and farmers’ science- and welfare-based care practices.
Today’s food producers are thinking about keeping farms productive and passing the business on to the next generation. Tomorrow’s food producers are the same kids selling their animals at the Sale of Champions, walking proudly around the show ring, and preparing to be the next generation of responsible food providers.
David T. Daniels is director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.