Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

From Farm to Fair

The Utah State Fair is a great place for people to make the connection between farm and food

By Doug Perry

Sometimes the space between food produced and food consumed seem vast and disconnected – almost like foreign countries. And yet the heart and soul of our nation has always been found across the vast open lands of our farms and ranches. Urbanites find great comfort in that.

But Utah’s harvest season, prominently celebrated at the Utah State Fair in Salt Lake City, is where the two paths cross. Where the producer and consumer become better acquainted and reminded of each other’s value. And where we all share in the successes of another blessed year of agriculture and food.

Since 1856 the Utah State Fair and its country cousins, the county fairs, serves as an important and much-anticipated highlight of farmer and rancher accomplishments. It’s an annual conference for agri-producing peers, sharing in best practices, networking, and experiencing a common bond and passion.

But others in Utah delight in the fair, too. Historically, it’s served as a premier state and community social event, marked by carnival rides, a rodeo and entertainment, and of course food. But there’s also friendly competition between farmers, homemakers, and artists that leave us all marveling at the skills and techniques our Utah family, friends, and neighbors have mastered.

The Utah State Fair seems to be growing and getting better each year. Governor Herbert’s leadership and a generous donation by the LDS Church led to a new 10,000-seat arena that has expanded capacities and the types of shows that can be accommodated.

 

Here’s just a sampling of what this year’s fair offered:

  • Utah Department of Natural Resource (DNR) featured its annual fishing pond - this year stocked with catfish and plenty of volunteers on hand to assist children with their catch and release. “We get lots of interest from kids, the banks are very crowded by 5 or 6 pm,” said one DNR volunteer.
  • Next door was another hands-on experience called Barnyard Friends. Here, small children delight in a sow and her eight piglets lying close together and near the fence so they can be touched as they nap the afternoon away, oblivious to the loads of attention they garner. The exhibit also included calves, goats, sheep, and various chicks at all stages – unhatched eggs incubating to only days old.
  • The competition barns were bustling with activity throughout the week, where hundreds of FFA, H4, and other kids competed in livestock showmanship and quality events. “The judges are looking for sheep that are well-fed and muscular so I give them lots of hay and grain throughout the year,” said Sarah Shaw, of Sevier County. “But they also need to see that my sheep have connected and are comfortable being handled by me so I do lots of things to prepare them for that also.”

 

  • Dairy West and Meadow Gold probably got the award for most unusual display this year, sculpting three near-life-size cows doing jazzer-size out of butter. Following the theme “Dairy Doing a Body Good,” sculptors Debbie Brown and Matt McNaughtan. For Debbie this was actually her 21st butter sculpture. "We come up with a winning design and then (we'll) kind of sketch out some ideas of how we can make it work for our cooler," she said.

 

  • Moving right along, most families with small children don’t miss the Little Hands on the Farm exhibit, an award-winning favorite of children, ages 2 to 10 where they begin to understand the connection from farm to grocery. Hands on the Farm is sponsored by Utah’s Own and gives kids the chance to gather eggs, pick apples, visit a grain silo, pluck vegetables from the garden, and more.

 

  • For the last 40 years, the Cattleman Association and Utah Beef Council have sponsored “Utah Beef Feast,” and come-and-get-it-while-it-lasts lunch barbecue that draws fair-goers in almost entirely on smell alone. “We’ve been come here for a long time. We have lots who know we’re here and relieved to eat anything other than a corn dog,” jokes Daniel Crozier, Cattlemen’s second vice president.

 

  • And, finally, what fair would be complete without the myriad of competitions for top crops - corn, squash, carrots, tomatoes - you name it and there’s probably someone awarded first prize for it. But, homemakers are also battle it out with their amazing offering of canned fruit and pickled goods, along with a wide assortment of baked goods such as cookies, cinnamon rolls, bread, and pies of every sort.

 

The 2018 Utah State Fair was, and has always been, a great celebration of agriculture and farming. The connections and bonds created are an important part of our state’s culture, both past and present.