Missouri State Fair continues to be a showcase for youth in agriculture

Healthy competition often makes people want to learn and improve. It helps to build, strengthen and form friendships and motivates people to participate. The Missouri State Fair has been fostering healthy competition for more than a century.

“Being an exhibitor at the state fair for 10 years now has had a major affect on me,” said Aleesha Ball, State Fair youth exhibitor. “It not only teaches you fundamental characteristics, but strengthens your knowledge about agriculture and helps you gain tons of experience.”

The Missouri State Fair began with the idea that promoting youth in agriculture is a key factor in the future of the industry. Developing competition at the fair was a way to keep Missouri youth actively involved in agriculture and encourage growth.

“The fair serves as an agricultural classroom,” said Kari Mergen, Missouri State Fair marketing director. “We offer Missouri producers and agricultural leaders opportunities to exhibit current practices and new technology.”

The fair is an annual event held in Sedalia, Missouri. When the event was founded in 1901, it was said that the fair would promote friendly competition between neighbors while also promoting Missouri Agriculture. The tradition is stronger than ever 112 years later.

“The Missouri State Fair has always provided something for everyone,” said Bob McNary, 4-H agriculture youth specialist. “There is great relationships represented through the history of the fair.”

Youth involved in agriculture are held to a high standard, which many believe the industry will follow. As the youth in agriculture progress, learn and grow, so will the industry.

The fair’s values are set in stone to promote a successful future for the agriculture industry. According to mostatefair.com, the top core values of the Missouri State Fair are:

  • Excellence in agriculture as a continuing commitment
  • Agriculture as a cornerstone of Missouri’s economy
  • Building family memories and traditions for future generations
  • Investing in youth and youth focused agricultural organizations such as the 4-H and FFA to cultivate future leaders in agriculture
  • Promote agricultural education to increase growth and raise awareness throughout Missouri

“I personally think that the State Fair, in general, always helps develop youth in agriculture,” Ball said. “Not only does the fair actually offer a ‘Youth in Agriculture’ scholarship, but they have the sale of champions that helps fund the scholarship.”

In the first several years of the fair, youth were encouraged to participate in the Junior Division. It wasn’t until 1918 that the 4-H division was added to the fair. 4-H members from across the state would participate in divisions such as sewing, baking, canning, poultry, stock judging and mules and draft horses. Exhibitors would compete for a total split premium of $355, an amount that wouldn’t cover the cost of most exhibitors total travel expenses.

For Missouri 4-H members, the state fair was — and still is — a chance to grow through experiences and create unforgettable memories.

“There are several different ways that allow youth to participate in the state fair,” McNary said. “I see a lot of potential growth in the 4-H category.”

The FFA division was added in 1952 and brought more diversity to the fair. Until their own division was created, FFA members were required to show in the Junior Division. With the addition of FFA exhibitors came highlight attractions such as the FFA Children’s Barnyard and the Farm Mechanics Display in 1955. By 1998 the FFA division of the fair became one of the largest, with 200 chapters across the state and 7,000 total entries that year.

“We have seen growth in entries through the years,” Mergen said. “With more than 30,000 exhibitors in recent years, this signifies to us that the agricultural industry is strong and growing.”

The fair currently offers a number of events in addition to the traditional livestock and crop production. Events ranging from photography to bookkeeping, and consumer education to aerospace are offered to youth.

“As a specialist in the 4-H,” McNary said. “I believe anyone can participate in the fair, it’s not just about livestock anymore.”

FFA and 4-H exhibitors now compete for nearly $125,000 in premiums. The total number of participants in the 4-H and FFA divisions continues to grow every year.

The largest agriculture expo in the state is an important tradition for many Missouri families. There is a lot that goes into making the show run for 11 straight days and to feed and entertain over 350,000 guests a year. Mergen said that she believes communication is key when it comes to making the fair run smoothly.

“It takes a lot of prep work, a great team and flexibility,” Mergen said. “Everyone must work together to put the show on!”

The fair is continuously growing in the amount of exhibitors and attendees. As well as changes in the fair, we can expect to see changes in agriculture. The Missouri State Fair prides itself in reflecting what is happening in the industry and what is going to take place in the industry in years to come.

“I expect more innovative exhibits to be developed to promote agriculture and raise awareness of agriculture among Missouri’s Citizens,” Mergen said.

The state fair continues to be a place to build memories and celebrate tradition. The fair offers a wide variety of entertainment, delicious fair food, concerts, motorsports, shopping, showcases of high quality livestock, agricultural products and industrial displays for fair-goers of all ages.

“I take pride that the Missouri State Fair can stay true to its original mission of promoting agriculture in our state,” Mergen said.

Families from across the state gather in Sedalia every year to celebrate hard work and dedication to yearly projects and to relax and enjoy great food, fun and entertainment.

“Everything I have learned from showing sheep, cattle and pigs, I learned from my peers and mentors at the Missouri State Fair,” Ball said. “When it comes time to head to Sedalia, Missouri every year, it seems like a huge family reunion, because that’s what the state fair community is: family.”

Maggie Glidewell

About the Author Maggie Glidewell

I got my first glimpse of agriculture looking through the ears of my American Quarter Horse. I quickly learned there is much more to this industry than crops and cows. My name is Maggie Glidewell, no it’s not short for Margaret, and I am currently a senior majoring in agricultural education and leadership with emphasis areas in marketing and journalism. I hope to take the skills that I have learned at Mizzou and pursue a career in informal education and youth development, working to build up and shape the minds of the future of our industry.