When I was 11, the fates and the inexpensive rent away from the city took my family from Provo to Southeast Idaho. Until then, I never knew what farming was really like.
I learned. I learned how to bottle peaches in the jar that bore the slogan, “Preserving: a way of life.”
I learned why hailstorms are to be feared and what the inside of a spud cellar smells like. I learned how to work hard, moving pipe and bucking hay bales. But more than anything, I learned that the agricultural heart of the West is alive and thriving. It’s also innovating.
Cache County fair illustrates that truth. If you haven’t been lately, it may be time to see what I mean.
The fair began this week and goes until Saturday night. The theme this year is “Celebrating the Past, Creating the Future.” As for the past, the fairgrounds look familiar in many ways. The livestock pavilions and shows are still there. The PRCA rodeo is bigger and better than ever. But there are a few innovations at the fair, too.
The most notable change is the now fully constructed and landscaped Cache County Convention Center. The first year I attended the fair, a series of different buildings housed exhibits like art, handicrafts, floral displays, and baked goods. The buildings were all dated and in need of repair. And none of them had air conditioning.
As an exhibitor, I not only had to negotiate the different entry times for various exhibits, but I had to find the right locations in the correct building. Pushing a stroller bursting with kids and pulling a wagon overflowing with garden produce from one spot to another was frustrating.
The older process of entering exhibits was only slightly more soul-crushing than the process of viewing exhibits. Going building to building and waiting in lines to see exhibits was challenging for me with my young kids. I considered it a victory if we could exit each building with the same number of children we brought in. Enjoying the displays seemed impossible.
With the convention center that has changed. The well lit, open convention center houses all the exhibits under one convenient roof. Air conditioning, clean restrooms and close water fountains make the building a welcome change from the previous fair format. The atmosphere is inviting and allows fairgoers to take their time through the exhibits without melting in the heat. And since the building houses all the exhibits together, I can linger by the art while the kids inspect the hobby creations.
The paperwork to enter the fair has been simplified, too. Last year, fair organizers began taking online registrations. The practice has expanded since then. Throughout July, organizers sent email reminders to fair exhibitors to register their entries online prior to coming to the fairgrounds. That little change makes a huge difference.
Where exhibitors used to write out entries longhand on separate pages, now the process has been digitized. Each family sets up an account and registers participants. Then participants can select from multiple exhibition options. Instead of the hours-long filling out of twenty-some-odd forms by hand, I sat down at a computer and finished all of my family’s entries within minutes. Since I was able to do that at home, none of my children got lost on the fairgrounds in the meantime. Win!
Those who aren’t tech savvy need not fear. They can bring their hand-knitted doilies to the fair organizers, where several computers and volunteers are on hand at check-in. Those who don’t have internet access at home or who didn’t register beforehand can sit in a comfortable chair across from a friendly volunteer and log their entries. Once entries are submitted online, tags are printed for each entry, making the tags uniform, easy to read, and easy to judge correctly.
But even with the improvements, to me the heart of the fair is the opportunity it gives for the community to gather. At the fair, we celebrate the different and beautiful things hard work can produce. We even put pretty ribbons on the best work so everyone knows how special it is.
Small as they may seem, those opportunities are not wasted on younger exhibitors. My daughters first year after we moved to Cache Valley was rough, to say the least. Struggling with a learning disability made it infinitely challenging for her to catch up to her classmates. Her relief from the storm of her life was art. She drew out her frustrations and painted away her discouragements.
That summer she entered a self-portrait in the fair. It was the first time she entered a contest. She looked through the other paintings on display and left the art building with slouched shoulders. She didn’t think her contribution meant anything to anyone.
By some tender act of kindness, the artists voted her portrait as the people’s choice award recipient that year. To her delight, a violet rosette accompanied the award. When she saw the award, her smile returned and she exclaimed, “They like me for what I am!”
Four years later, the rosette hangs above her bed. To me, it’s a reminder that community is not just a place where we reside, it is where we learn to really live.
Looking over the hand-stitched quilts and carefully preserved goods at the fair, I feel thankful to dwell among good, hardworking people. My meager entries will sit alongside theirs in hopes of garnishing colored ribbons. But in the end, it isn’t the ribbons we are most proud of. We are proud to be learning and living the traditions of the West. That’s something worth preserving.
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org