So, every year my Mom and I journey (uhm, a mile) to 8 Mile and Woodward to partake in the country's oldest state fair - a state fair that is unfortunately on its very very last legs. In its 160 year history, I have gone approximately 19 of those years, sometimes multiple times in the week-and-a-half course of the fair. This year, Mom and I went twice, and she's already been once without me, and will likely go by herself another time or two.
These are our last grand hurrahs, last-ditch efforts to support the fair in an attempt to revitalize it.
Earlier this year Governor Granholm unceremoniously evicted all the businesses* at the State Fairgrounds and announced that this would be the last year for the Michigan State Fair. There was outrage, there was protesting. There were townhall meetings where citizens voiced their objections to the fair closing and the grounds being vacated. One of Granholm's cabinet cohorts said "A two-week fair cannot support the 164-acre asset."** So... where was all the money from the year-round business ventures on the grounds going? I can't imagine that leasing a 50,000+ square foot equestrian facility on the grounds 12 months of the year was cheap, nevermind the six other businesses leasing space, nevermind the numerous trade shows and events that lease space throughout the year (Gun & Knife shows, computer shows, building material auctions, the Shrine Circus, wrestling & MMA competitions, etc). Something rotten in the state of Detroit?***
(Sidebar: can you imagine what's going to become of 164 acres laying vacant and unused at the corner of 8 and Woodward? My overactive imagination has come up with quite a few scenarios, and none of them are pretty.)
There's been a lot of conjecture and rhetoric floating around about what could become of the grounds, and a lot of (very good) ideas thrown about, none of which have apparently met muster. THIS is an excellent, outstanding, mutually beneficial idea, not to mention one that stays true to the fair's purpose. It's also one that I could fully get behind. But who decides what happens to the fairgrounds?
Partly, we do. It's *our* State Fair. If attendance is up from years past, then that (ostensibly) adds some weight to saving the fair.
Having attended for so many years, I've definitely seen a trending decline in many aspects of the fair: most notably in the agricultural sectors. Every year there seem to be fewer cows, fewer sheep, fewer pigs, fewer goats, fewer vegetables, fewer horse shows. Huh? Agriculture is Michigan's 2nd largest industry. Is the fair not targeting farmers and homesteaders in an appropriate manner? Surely with the growing interest in slow food movements (et al) it would behoove more residents to know WHERE their meat/grains/vegetables come from? Though there isn't AS much agriculture in the counties closest to the fairgrounds compared to the mid-state and northern/western counties, I've seen in years past exhibitors from Canada and Ohio - journeying from points much farther than our own in-state agriculturists. Maybe a better marketing program from the State Fair is in order, to more effectively draw in participants from all around the state (and beyond, if they want to come! Why not?). While exhibiting livestock in the fair probably isn't cheap, there are benefits to be had (exhibition points, premiums for winners, scholarship opportunities for junior exhibitors) and maybe they need to be talked up. With agriculture holding such a prominent place in Michigan's financial history, and the other industries losing ground, it could be poised to take their places in the future. Seems kind of silly to miss out on ANY revenue-building opportunities, given the state of the state (and nation). As far as non-animal-based agriculture, it seems like possibilities for urban farmers to showcase their work are being missed. "Google "urban farming detroit" and you'll see that it's getting to be a HUGE thing. Why waste THAT opportunity, especially in light of the aforementioned proposal to build an agriculture education center?
Another fair program I've seen less participation in is the Community Arts program, though this year seems to have bulked up again ever so slightly. This is SUCH a great program for the average (non-farming) citizen. For $12, you can enter up to ten items in varied "homemaking" categories (everything from knitting/crocheting to photography to baking to quilts to wine), and have the opportunity for the State Fair judges to tell you that your muffins or drawing or sculpture or pickles are The Best Ever (of That Year, in That State). Along with that honor come cash prizes, of $7 up to $25 per winning piece! AND, with your $12 entry fee, you receive two complimentary passes to the fair, and the option to purchase parking passes at $2 off the normal price of $7. A few years ago I made a bunch of muffins and got a 3rd on one batch (I forgot what kind) and a 1st place on my banana muffins - which also won Best of Show for All Muffins Ever (of That Year, in That State)! I won back $10, got to go to the fair, got a few ribbons and a whole lotta bragging rights. It's really a win-win-win situation! My mom, who enters almost every year, has walked away with $50-60 before, even after the parking pass and entry fees. Winning is fun, guys, but you can only win if you enter. I promise.
For the past few years, Mom and I have talked about how the Michigan Mart has devolved from a showcase of Michigan-made products into ... a trade show mish-mash of ShamWow! knockoffs, anti-abortion groups, cutlery hawkers, and all sorts of other salesmen of useless gadgets and ideologies. What if the Michigan Mart were actually... a place... where people could sell... MICHIGAN-MADE PRODUCTS? Scary thought, I know, right? It really is. Oh, sure, every year there's a maple syrup farm and a honey farm selling their goods (though this year there was no one selling honey - sad. So sad. I love honey. Honey loves me.) Okay, so let's set up a little farmer's market where you can buy fresh veggies and fruits from the people who won that nifty little Best of Show ribbon in the eggplant category. Or a mini artist's market/craft fair where our local creative community (which I assure you, is vast and varied) can sell their homemade, handmade clothing, prints, photography, accessories. Yes, there's still the cost to get into the fair, and the cost for vendors to set up booths in the fair, but also a possibility to generate more income and keep it in the metropolitan community. This is a business method that I think a lot of companies are scrapping strictly because of the economy, but scrapping it can backfire pretty badly - sometimes you need to spend money to make money.
Michigan is not in a position right now to close off any avenue of income or industry, and yet Granholm wants to cut off a channel of it off? Ridiculous.
Are you thinking of going to the State Fair? Have you ever been? You should. It's not the most inexpensive thing in the world (gate is $10, plus $7 per car for parking, or there are lots across 8 Mile that charge $5, or if you are a big cheapskate you can park somewhere in Hazel Park or Ferndale or Detroit and just walk)
Here's why you should go:
•baby animals GALORE. If you don't like baby animals, you are probably a terrible person. You can even see BRAND NEW, VERY BABY animals in the Miracle of Life exhibit! There are baby quail there that are so adorably bite-sizedly tiny. Too too freaking cute and precious. You can also get your picture taken with an adorable baby lion or kangaroo or fennec fox! The baby lion didn't eat me, mostly because Id idn't get my picture taken with her. She is very cute though.
•regular animals. Though not as cute as baby animals, they are still pretty cute. And neat. I guess. JK, I love them. Check out the poultry house for prize-winning chickens, pigeons, turkeys, and bunnies (uhm. Not poultry, by the by), and then go into the pavilion in the center to see a duck and goose pond! Stop by the dairy barn to get bottomless glasses of the VERY best chocolate milk I have ever tasted in my long and illustrious career of chocolate-milk-taste-testing for FIFTY CENTS a glass! Best bargain ever. Watch the daily horse shows, featuring youth classes, one-to-eight horse-hitch driving classes, and speed events. Meet a bunch of big friendly pigs or sheep or cows or goats!
•piggy races. So cute. Also, petting zoos with llamas, alpacas, yaks, and exotic breeds of cows, sheep, and goats. And you can see the Budweiser Clydesdales (well, one of six eight-horse teams they employ across the country)!
•rides, games, FUN!
•hello, fair food!
•this scary clown garbage can!
•things you might not have ever seen before! Yarn-spinning, sheep-shearing, horse-shoeing, cow-milking, etc! There are competitions you can watch and contests you can enter, and some crappy bands (sorry, that part is true) you can watch! Check the daily schedules of events here.
•show the Governor that you AND the State Fair mean business! Sign the Save the State Fair petitions located in buildings all around the fair!
*Joe Dumars' Fieldhouse looks to have escaped the guillotine for the time being.
**"State Fair in Jeopardy" http://detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090202/POLITICS/902020353
***Actually, there very may well have been something funky going on in the SF offices that billed our barn for utilities, but I'm not at liberty to say, as it is merely hearsay; we never figured out what was going on, as far as I know.