Hale Moss, president of Wilson County Promotions, Inc., the organization that puts on the fair each year, was the guest speaker at the committee. He noted that the particular theme of “Hats Off to the 2011 Wilson County Fair” was chosen “because of all the different people who make up the fair.”
In other words, everyone associated with the fair wears some kind of hat, from a cowboy hat often worn by those involved in livestock shows, a firefighter’s helmet worn by those who help keep the fairgrounds safe during nine-day run of the event to a baseball cap worn by others either volunteering at the fair or by those who are attendance.
“There are many hats that make the fair what it is,” Moss said. He noted that the fair has grown into the success it has become largely through the efforts of the 300 volunteers who serve on the Fair Board and another 300 volunteers who serve on various committees.
The fair is often referred to as the largest county fair in the state and in 2010 drew more than 397,000 visitors. The fair this year will also launch “The Year of the Soybean” with “Hats Off to Soybean Farmers of Tennessee.”
Katie Dickson, the 2010 Fairest of the Fair winner, also attended the committee meeting yesterday to discuss soybeans and the crop’s importance to consumers, farmers and the state’s economy.
Wilson County fce clubs greeted those attending the meeting with food items prepared using soybeans and also had soy milk on hand for everyone to drink.
Dickson led everyone through a brief quiz on soybeans which noted that soybeans are the highest natural source of dietary fiber, that soy protein is the only plant protein that contains all eight essential amino acids and is considered a complete protein, that soybeans inhibit the growth of tumors and that biodiesel is made from soybeans.
In addition, she said, soybeans are used to make soy burgers, sausage, tofu and other food items. You can learn more about soybeans on page 4 of the fair catalog.
Moss noted that there is a mention of a fair in the Book of Ezekiel in the Bible and that history shows that places around temples were often where events, such as fairs or markets were held, likely precursors to today’s flea markets, church bazaars and such.
Elkanah Watson, in 1807, is considered to be the father of the fair in the United States after holding an event in which to show the wool from his prized sheep and to promote agriculture in Pittsfield, Mass.
“That actually was the beginning of the American fair tradition,” he said.
Fairs continue to be held in counties and states throughout the country, many focusing on agriculture such as the Wilson County Fair. Ribbons are awarded to winners in such contests at livestock shows, canned goods, quilt shows and more.
“The symbol of the blue ribbon is all American,” Moss said, adding while blue ribbons are awarded to first place winners in various contests at fairs in the U.S., red ribbons are awarded for first place in fairs held in Europe and Canada.
The first record of a fair to be held in Wilson County was in 1853, he said, noting a ticket to the event exists and is maintained in a lockbox for safe-keeping. On display at the committee meeting yesterday was a ticket from a Wilson County Fair in 1858.
The fair used to be held on property owned by the Baddour family located behind where the Jimmy Floyd Family Center is located. The fair was held there until 1969.
The fair continued to grow at its location on Coles Ferry Pike so much so that it became known as Tennessee’s big county fair.
Moss said the Quarterly Court (now called the Wilson County Commission) voted in 1974 to purchase the site now known as the James E. Ward Agricultural Center where the fair moved to and has been held ever since.
The site is named in honor of Ward, a former agricultural extension agent in Wilson County. He was also known for his country hams and his smokehouse is now located in Fiddler’s Grove, a pioneer village that is part of the Ward Ag Center.
At the time, the Ward Ag Center consisted of 10 acres. Today, it includes more than 260 acres.
Moss told the committee that “the Agricultural Center is only the (Wilson County) Fairgrounds one month a year,” as Larry Tomlinson, director of the Ag Center, and his staff work welcome more than 300 events to the facility each year.
“We are very proud of the Ward Center,” he said, “and the role it plays in making ‘Wilson County the Place to Be.’”
Wilson County Promotions, Inc., was formed in 1979 for the purpose of holding the Wilson County Fair each year. It adopted a mission statement on Feb. 2, 1979 which is, “To promote, encourage and stimulate the civic welfare and betterment of Wilson County, Tennessee, and the surrounding geographical area, through the promotion, ownership and operation of a Fair and other similar endeavors; to promote, encourage and maintain interest in agriculture, labor, industry, recreation, business, commerce, trade and any other civic function or interest by the exhibition method or otherwise; to cooperate with other citizens and groups of citizens interested in the same or similar purposes.”
The fair has been successful and grown through the years, Moss said, because it reflects a quote given to him by one of the fair board members. “There’s no limit to what you can get done as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.”
The fair, he added, has also been successful and grown because it offers so much to visitors, from livestock shows, to pageants, to cooking demonstrations, texting contests and the most popular event, the Demolition Derby.
The committee laughed as Moss noted there are automobile accidents covered by newspapers and TV news, but yet the grandstand is always full for the Demolition Derby at the fair.
“I’ve never understood that,” he said, as committee members laughed.
In addition to all that is offered at the fair, Moss said it continues to focus on agriculture. “We have a responsibility (so) young people know that chocolate milk doesn’t come from a brown cow.”
The fair, he added, also benefits local coffers as visitors not only from Wilson County, but also from surrounding counties, from across Tennessee and from many states come to the event each year.
“The fair has a huge economic impact on this county,” Moss said, adding figures should be available after the fair ends its 2011 run. He noted that the fair has what he called “a ripple effect” on local businesses.
He also mentioned Fiddler’s Grove which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year through a series of events called 2nd Saturdays where some of the buildings are featured each month.
“Fiddler’s Grove is a very unique feature that we have. There are not many of these villages at other fairs.”
Moss said all of the buildings in Fiddler’s Grove have been either relocated or reconstructed.
The village shows how life was back in the 1800s in Wilson County. It also includes the history of the railroad in the county. “Railroads were a major, major part of Wilson County’s development.”
And Fiddler’s Grove is the site of all kinds of music, from bluegrass and country and gospel and other types. “The music there is always exceptional. There’s a lot of good stuff going on there.”
Finally, Moss address what is happening regarding the Tennessee State Fair that has been held at the state fairgrounds in Nashville for a number of years.
Moss said the Tennessee State Fair Association recently was awarded the right to produce the state fair in its current location this year.
“It’s important that Tennessee have a state fair,” he said, adding that as strong a state as Tennessee is in agriculture, it would be great to promote it by having all the counties that have fairs to send their best chocolate cakes and other entries to be judged.
He said it was not a secret that a group had visited the Nashville Superspeedway as a possible site for a state fair.
“How we support each other remains to be seen,” Moss said, noting there were a couple of other places in the U.S. where a county and a state fair were held in the same location.
Editor Jennifer Horton may be contacted at email@example.com