From the time County Mayor Rogers Anderson first raised thoughts about having a county fair, the primary objective was to promote a partnership between agriculture, education and a new concept called agri-tourism while utilizing the new Ag Expo park.
By 2003, agriculture — once the county’s leading industry — had lost ground to progress and growth. The more than 3,000 farms that once dotted the county had dwindled to hundreds as the area transformed from rural to urban.
Matt Horseman, a 4-H and UT Extension Service director, said the fair provides an opportunity to promote agriculture through education and interaction with the public.
According to DeWayne Perry, retired 4-H and UT Extension Service director, through the years, different people thought there should be a county fair, but there was always an excuse — until 2003, when a group put their heads together to create ways to better utilize the new park.
“A fair was the logical thing,” Perry said. “From the get-go, it pulled a lot of things together.”
The county’s 4-H program was one of those things. Once a fair date was set, Perry turned to finding ways to adjust the timing of 4-H events to make the annual 4-H fair a part of the county fair. That provided an opportunity to reach more people and spotlight youngsters demonstrating ownership, responsibility and leadership in the projects they take on, whether it be livestock, cooking, sewing, arts and crafts or the new STEM program.
Exhibits such as the birthing pig in the Children’s Barnyard, the daily milking demonstration and the numerous livestock shows for school-age youngsters and adults in the show barns provide opportunities to turn negatives into positives by telling a story that educates the public.
“We are constantly challenged to do things differently and we need people to understand the ag story,” Horseman said. “If we can get them to stop by (the exhibits, demonstrations and shows) then next year they may stay longer, and as we keep building on the experience and opening the doors to do new avenues, more people become interested.”
A couple chickens in the backyard, vegetables grown in pots on a deck, a couple peach trees or a patch of strawberry plants are all a connection. Hydroponic farming is becoming more popular and one doesn’t need a lot of land. Carters Creek Farm in the Southall area of Carters Creek Pike is a new farm-to-table hydroponic farm.
“The fair is a great opportunity to showcase the backyard farms and horticulture — it’s a new way to connect,” Horseman added. “It doesn’t take much to connect to agriculture.”
Agriculture isn’t only about big farms and ranches; it’s not just raising crops and animals. Agriculture is also about helping other people raise crops and animals,” Horseman said. “You don’t have to come to the farm to be in agriculture.”
STEM robotics has become involved in agriculture, Horseman said. Since the fair board moved the main stage and the area became the 4-H Youth Village, “we’ve found our niche.”
He added, “We provide a lot of youth and family activities you can’t find anywhere else.”
The Riverbend Butterfly House was a big hit and returns this year with more beautiful butterflies.
Last year the STEM focus was on 3-D Derby cars, rockets, robotic programming as well as pressure and weight. There was even a robotics contest.
“The feedback was strong and positive,” Horseman said. “We’re going to try it again but with different activities. We’ve continued to grow. A lot of the activities we offer are activities 4-H has been offering through the years.”
The fair has transformed the Cattleman’s Association, adding more engagement and moving from “just an association” to a philanthropic group supporting 4-H and youth in agriculture, said Perry, an association member. Perry said it was the late Ralph Meacham’s idea to create a scholarship, now called the Ralph Meacham Scholarship, for local high school students. Using an endowment from Middle Tennessee State University and adding proceeds from the Cattleman’s Association food stand at the fair, scholarships have helped many area college-bound students with an interest in agriculture.