Sunday, September 03, 2006

Ag Day mixes history with future

So how was Ag Day at the Oregon State Fair?


For those who are interested in agriculture, there was a lot to enjoy.

Some of the special invents included the Century Farm awards, the Oregon Auctioneers Association annual competition, an Ag Day reception for an invitation-only crowd, a professional bull riders event, and more than 20 agricultural business vendors that came with special displays for the day.

One of the highlights was a large Case IH combine and a Caterpillar tractor just outside the main gates inviting people into the state fair and being their last image when they departed.

While unfortunately those curious to see the inside of these great machines were faced with yellow tape to keep them off the steps, kids as well as adults enjoyed the chance to see up close what usually toils hard in the fields.

Holding an Ag Day was a brilliant idea: while during a state fair there is the usual showing of animals and poultry, 4-H and FFA displays and competitions, and awards for everything from huge pumpkins to exquisite quilting patterns, these other events helped to show other sides of American agriculture.

The Century Farm program, held in the Jackman-Long building, involved a ceremony to honor families who have been at least 100 years in Oregon. In the few minutes that sometimes large families gathered on the stage, visitors heard a short version of why these families settled here, how they did it, how they grew and change and adapted to survive until now. What came through was how much they did adapt, how proud these family members are to be on the same homestead, and how important it is to them to know their heritage. This includes the triumphs but also the challenges along the way.

One of the families also mentioned how much they learned and enjoyed researching to know more about their family history when they were preparing their application for the program.

It’s too bad the awards program allowed only a few minutes to be told about each family. Such a rich family history deserves so much more honor and time to share.

However, one of the bright spots was seeing the kids who accompanied parents and grandparents upon the stage. There remains hope that the family farms will continue.

Later in the afternoon was a reception held by the Oregon State Fair Foundation. This was the third and final reception in a series that were held during the state fair, and allowed Dave Koellermeier, the new manager of the Oregon State Fair under the state Parks and Recreation Department, to announce some of the changes that were done for this year. More importantly, he shared his vision for the future, including the themes for the state fair for the next three years.

Kollermeirer’s enthusiasm was infectious to the crowds. He invited them to share with him what changes they thought were needed for the future. He then spent considerable time going table to table, introducing himself to everyone and asking for their feedback.

Combined with the feedback he was receiving from the survey booths he introduced around the fairgrounds this year, each day he could examine the results.

Kollermeirer got a good idea of what people like and don’t like about the fair. Add that he had held several meetings around the state long before the state ran this year, and he presented a good formula to change the trend of declining attendance at the fair. By last night, he was predicting that overall attendance should be up about 10 percent from the year before.
He plans more follow-up meetings in the future.

A farmer himself, Kollermeirer really emphasized bringing agriculture back to being a significant part of the state fair, while still appealing to a more general audience with a variety of entertainment, exhibits and events to attract more people to come, stay longer and spend more money.

One of the events that helped attract people was a chance to watch professional bull riders challenge tough bulls while rock music boomed in the Pavilion. Glancing around at who attended the event, it included a lot of people who had participated in other events earlier in the day either as exhibitors, competitors or spectators. Obviously they felt it was worth it to stay a few extra hours.

One of the people who enjoyed the rodeo event the most was Marcus Morgan, a farmer and auctioneer from the Dalles who won the Oregon auctioneer competition, the first time in his three years of competing that he has won the top award.
For Morgan, it was an extra treat to watch the bucking bulls. Why?

He admitted that in the past he had been a bullrider himself. The highest he ever got in an event was second place, the winner’s buckle eluding him. As he began to near 30 years old, he decided to try earning a buckle a different way: as an auctioneer.

He had a shiny silver buckle and a huge trophy at the end of the day to show his success, while still wearing a silver rodeo buckle from Las Vegas that one of his uncles had given him.

As people left at the end of the day, they saw the last reflections of whirling rides in the windows of the combine, heard a mix of music and chatter, and carried off their large prizes or slipped away with empty pockets.

No matter what they did for the day, they had received at least a glimpse of agriculture and a taste of the roots of the state fair, as well as a hint of where it will go in the future.

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