More than a century ago, a group of business leaders in Hutchinson formed the Reno County Agricultural Society and hosted a fair in a small wooden livery stable behind the town’s only bank. Forty years later in 1913, Kansas Governor George Hodges made Hutchinson the official location for the Kansas State Fair, which was described by The Hutchinson News as having an “auspicious opening” when thousands of Kansans gathered for “a record-breaking agricultural and horticultural exhibit showing.”
The fair continued to grow over the next 100 years and became a true reflection of the times. Just as life in Kansas changed drastically during World War II, so did the fair. The 1942 Kansas State Fair had a “Scrap Day,” where more than 32 tons of metal was collected to contribute to the war effort by offering free admission in exchange for donations. Booths even had war bonds and stamps available for purchase.
A century later, the “auspicious opening” description of the first official Kansas State Fair still rings true, as it remains Kansas’ largest single event – attracting nearly 350,000 attendees annually. Kansas families enjoy endless entertainment, thrilling rides, exhibitor booths, and – of course – delicious food. A staple food-stop for me and my wife, Robba – who is a former Kansas State Fair Board President – is Our Lady of Guadalupe’s food station in Cottonwood Court where parishioners build camaraderie serving hungry folks tasty enchiladas, tacos and tamales.
While the fair continues to evolve – just as our state does – its roots remain in agriculture. As the economic backbone of so many of the Kansas towns where you and I were raised, agriculture is also our link to the past – a time when families were the axis around which all things revolved. In today’s fast-paced world, there are few industries where sons and daughters can still work side-by-side with moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas. The fair is a great time to celebrate that tradition.
One way the tradition is showcased at the fairgrounds is through Kansas youth organizations like 4-H and FFA. I always enjoy visiting with these young people who learn the meaning of hard work and responsibility through projects like raising and showing livestock, taking photographs, baking, or learning carpentry through woodworking construction. But it’s also hard not to recognize the parents and mentors who were there every step of the way. Through experiences in organizations like 4-H and FFA, our state and country’s next generation of leaders are being equipped with the skills and values necessary to reach their full potential and become successful in life.
With the record-setting drought and the uncertainty surrounding the Farm Bill, it is vital that we make certain agriculture remains profitable so there is a next generation of farmers and ranchers in Kansas. As a senator from a farm state, I often find myself educating my colleagues in Washington, D.C., about the critical importance of strong agriculture policy. With an increasingly urban Congress and the complexities of a global agricultural economy, this is often not an easy task. My conversations with Kansans during the fair remind me that working to keep the family farm alive and providing consumers with safe and affordable food is worth every effort.
As the Kansas State Fair celebrates 100 years, we are blessed to have such a strong agriculture community. I hope you will join me in honoring that community by attending the fair which begins Friday, September 6 and runs through Sunday, September 15. I know you will enjoy the exciting rides and the wonderful – and sometimes wacky – food, but be sure to check out the exhibit halls, livestock barns, and countless educational opportunities. I also have a booth in the Pride of Kansas building where members of my staff will be available to answer questions, so please come by for a visit. Thank you to the Kansas State Fair Board Members and staff who put in countless hours of planning to ensure the fair’s success.
I hope to see you and your family at the fair, and am sure you’ll leave with a greater appreciation for the agriculture families who work so hard to make certain Kansas remains the special place we love to call home.