Before this year, I hadn’t been to an Arkansas State Fair in over two decades. I don’t care for riding rides, and my fellow food blogger Kat Robinson does such a thorough job every year previewing all the wild and crazy food available at the fair that my attempting to do it would be worse than redundant: it would surely be inadequate. But Jess wanted to head down to the fairgrounds this year, and despite my skepticism of going to a place where a sippy cup-sized lemonade is $4, a turkey leg goes for $10, and one of the food kiosks is called “Fried What,” there might be something for me at the fair. Turns out there was: the livestock.
Having just recently attended an Arkansas-based stop of Outstanding in the Field, the thought of the farmers that work so hard to bring us the food we eat was still pretty fresh on my mind, so walking through the cattle barns and goat pens was of particular interest to me this year. We walked to Barton Coliseum to watch girls in their sparkle belts and Sunday-best boots lead their prize heifers across the arena floor for judging. We watched as entire families washed, brushed, and beautified their animals to prep them for showing. And through it all, I was reminded that there is an entirely different world out there where raising animals and growing vegetables and fruits is a daily way of life. Strange isn’t it, that we see so little of this on a day-to-day basis, and rather sad, too.
I go to many of our local farmers markets regularly, as do many of my neighbors. And there, the vegetables are always washed and clean, the meat frozen and packaged — and while you can talk to the growers directly, it’s still a neat and sanitized version of food that doesn’t nearly do justice to the hard, dirty work that goes into raising those vegetables and raising those animals. Agriculture is a tough proposition, with the Old Testament telling us that it was God Himself who made it that way to punish us all for tasting the forbidden fruit. And yet, despite the long hours, constant threats from bugs and weather, and low profit margins, the growers I talk to seem to love what they do, relishing the growth of each plant or the fattening of each hog as their way of taking the world around them and turning it into nourishment for others. And so while I didn’t get a deep-fried pecan pie, corn dog, or jumbo turkey leg, I did take away something food-related from the fair: the farmer is the life-blood of our civilization, and we don’t pay attention to that fact nearly enough. Cheers.