GREENFIELD, Ind. – The smell of elephant ears, freshly popped kettle corn, and deep-fried everything fills the air. Old men shoot the breeze, kids play, and everything is right in the world.
It’s county fair season.
The annual county fair holds a special place in the hearts of Hoosiers as somewhere to meet up with friends and celebrate Indiana’s agricultural roots.
Jon Sparks, a member of the Hancock County Fair Board and dairy superintendent, said he thinks fairs continue to be popular because of tradition.
“It’s fair week, it’s time to go to the fair and you go see people that you don’t see any time of the year but fair week,” he said.
Ike Maxwell, 81 says he has overseen the Handcock county tractor display for the last 18 years. Photo by Jesse Wilson, TheStatehouseFile.com
The Hancock County Fair ended Friday. Nine other county fairs are ongoing and most will take place through the beginning of August.
Sparks said fairs are a way to celebrate Indiana’s rural heritage.
The fair “gives people from some of the more non-rural areas a chance to see a bit of that culture, to enjoy the livestock and the different things that come with it,” he said.
And Robin Cooper, president of the Indiana Fairs and Festivals Association, said for some people, fairs are the only way to interact with the culture of rural Indiana.
“So many kids that live in the big cities don’t ever have the opportunity to see agriculture unless they go to a fair. Oftentimes it’s their first experience with animals, crops, agriculture in general,” she said.
Cooper said the 4-H programs are “huge” draws for fairs around the state.
The 4-H program – which stands for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health – is a national program created more than 100 years ago as the result of a desire to make public school education more connected to the country life.
According to the 4-H website, the idea behind the program is simple: Help young people and their families gain the skills they need to be proactive forces in their communities and develop ideas for a more innovative economy.
Renee McKee, program leader of 4-H Youth Development in Indiana, said the group organizes more than two-thirds of the state’s county fairs. She said she would like to believe that people think the 4-H program is a significant youth organization in each community.
“Our purpose is to develop young people,” she said.
But there is more to county fairs than 4-H competitions. Fairs around the state boast several attractions, including concerts, shows and carnivals. The size and scope of the attractions is as diverse as the counties themselves.
At the Hancock County fair, the antique tractor barn is always a big draw. Ike Maxwell, assistant grounds superintendent, has been overseeing the display for the last 18 years.
Maxwell – 81 years young – said it’s fun to see how many people bring a tractor to display at the fair. Typically the Pioneer Building showcases about 40 tractors, with some dating back to before World War II.
But for Maxwell, and many other Hoosiers, the best part about the annual county fair is the people.
“You see so many people that you haven’t seen from one year to the next,” he said. “And people respect that, I do too. I like to see people.”
John Sittler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.