We went to our county fair today, and were saddened at how it is shrinking. Even counting time spent eating elephant ears and bento, we were there less than three hours. Everything seems smaller in numbers of exhibits, and generally drained of vitality. It takes a lot of people, many of them unpaid, to put together an event like a fair; and the aspects of human life that a fair represents are not very important to our culture any more. This is the list that comes to my mind, describing a fair: agriculture, livestock, tradition, handcraft, businesses, history, hobbies, the future … community.
Fairs used to be places where the particular identity of the county (or state) was visibly celebrated by exhibiting the products of its soil and water, the activities of its local industries, the skills of its residents, the promise of its youth. Fairgoers left feeling pretty good about where they lived. Kids perhaps saw some future for themselves in the county, whether it was the possibility of a job, an interest in a local college, or a general feeling that “this place has a future and I may be part of it”.
Our county, Jackson County (Oregon) only has a population of 200,000; 75,000 live in the largest town, Medford. Even before the 2008 crash the county’s economy was not in good shape. Construction of new houses (sometimes built “on spec”) was strong, fueled in part by arrival of new residents who had sold homes in California for inflated prices. Institutionally and individually, the county is still struggling to adjust from the demise of the timber industry, yet cannot get it together to protect from development its 8500 acres of orchard land which has historically produced high-value crops for export. Unemployment is above 12% , compared to the rate for the state as a whole, which is 10.5%. Both rates are steady, not improving.
Given all that, maybe the lackluster fair is just an accurate representation of where the county is. Still, if there was a agriculture pavilion, we never found it. If there was a county-sponsored exhibit meant to retain residents and attract new business, we never saw that either.
I did snap some photos, just of things that interested me.
Embroidered Griffon, in the Needlework section.