State Fair Belongs To Tennessee’s Citizenry

Growing up on a farm allowed me the advantage of experiencing life in somewhat of a simpler manner than those who have spent their days living out life’s early adventures in a somewhat more complex arena. We only made trips to the city of Murfreesboro on Saturdays, every now and then, which was to purchase tractor parts and groceries we could not produce on our own land. The peddler stopped by every week in his old bus converted into a rolling store, which also saved us the fifteen miles “into town” on Saturdays.

We spent the summer working in the fields and doing all of the things you associate with a Tennessee dairy farm. When not hauling hay, chopping out Johnson grass, and performing other farm chores, we spent those warm months preparing our dairy cattle for the event that climaxed summer. That event was the annual pilgrimage to the Tennessee State Fair in our state’s capital of Nashville. It was a very special time planned for each year and involved the entire family.

In early September we would take our dairy cattle to compete for ribbons and prize money. Not a lot of prize money ever returned, but the experience of the competition and responsibility was worth so much more to a youngster like me than a ribbon or a check. Taking your favorite cows from the farm required spending several nights in the fair barns sleeping in the hay with the cows, but it also meant spending many enjoyable days with friends from across the state that had the same “fair fever” you experienced that last warm month of summer.

Fairs for years have been the showplaces for the latest in new farm technology. Kids have enjoyed climbing on new tractors and pretending they were tilling the fields for next year’s crops. I can remember climbing into the driver’s seat of a brand new John Deere and wishing to someday drive one of those machines across our fields rather than the “red belly” Ford we would have to keep for several more seasons.

Today, I only have the chance to visit our state fair as a display worker, volunteer or visitor rather than an exhibitor. However, whenever I open that car door, and experience the sounds from the midway, the smell of cotton candy, and the view of cattle in the show ring, the little kid in me returns and “fair fever” infects me all over again.

But, for the last two years there has been much confusion about the future of the Tennessee State Fair with Metro Nashville wanting to sell the current fairgrounds for other ventures. In fact, last year it almost didn’t happen and would not have happened, if it had not been for a group of individuals, with some of the same memories as myself, joining together to form the non-profit Tennessee State Fair Association (TSFA) to operate the fair one more year. With only weeks to prepare, this group worked together as volunteers to plan and to put on an outstanding fair for the Metro State Fair Board. They worked long hours and days so people of the Volunteer State could have a great fair once again. And was awarded another year’s contract by that board for this year to do the fair once again.

With plans and hopes for the TSFA to do the 2011 Tennessee State Fair already on the burner, out of nowhere, a reporter from a local Nashville TV station began an “investigative” report on claims that the TSFA’s gate admissions and amounts to be paid to Metro government were not just right. It also helped for the TV station that the month of May is an important month for TV ratings and controversy helps in the ratings weeks.

After several news reports not containing all the story and somewhat one-sided were aired, the Metro board held a special meeting and took the fair contract from the TSFA giving it to a for-profit vendor to conduct the fair for the next two years. The years of experience as volunteers conducting the State Fair of those making up TSFA was totally overlooked for promises of money and fear from media efforts that made a story rather than told one.

I commend TSFA for their hard work and honesty they have given the people of Tennessee the last two years. They have attempted to follow the definition of a fair as, “an exhibition, often competitive, of farm, household, and manufactured products, usually with various amusement facilities and educational displays.” They have tried to avoid the carnival venue only and make our fair truly a State Fair. In my opinion, it is time to give the Metro Nashville Fair back to its board and the Tennessee State Fair to become just that, a memorable fair for the people of Tennessee.

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– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com