I suppose this is what I knowingly recognize as my redundant annual column, but there is something about this time of year which always makes me nostalgic for agricultural fairs.
It is more than the fact the Yorkton Exhibition Association’s annual fair is being held in the city this week, and that means my trekking to the familiar grounds for the local regional 4-H show, dairy goat show and of course a plate of curly fries and an elephant ear.
When I was a youngster my summer holidays were not spent at some camp for kids. Instead it was a near solid six-weeks of attending summer fairs; Saskatoon, Yorkton, Melfort, Connaught, Nipawin, Prince Albert, Golburn, Invermay, Swan River, Shand. We showed livestock and in that era, 30-to-40 years ago that meant being an important part of the fair. Everybody had a tie to the farm in those days, and so most attending fairs walked through the barns. It was just the thing to do.
Of course farming itself was different back then. Operations were smaller. They were generally mixed.
In our case over the years we always showed registered hogs -- as far afield as the Toronto Royal twice -- but also sheep, dairy goats, even chickens and grain sheaves. People would walk through the barns and look. They would stop to talk, usually about the animals they had at home. In those days almost every farmer had a few cows, pigs, raised chickens for eggs and milk. That was the way of farming.
Those days are past.
Yes there are those who want to get back to being more self-sufficient on the farm. They see value in raising chickens on grain they grow to produce eggs, or to raise pigs to have a deep freeze full of meat without a cash outlay at the grocery store each week.
In some respects it was a simpler time, which I suppose is something every generation says..
Farmers had the time, or at least made it, to take their stock to shows all over the Prairies. It was part of growing up for many kids of my generation. You knew you were coming of age when your father let you stay alone at some fair to look after the show stock.
It was another step when you got to drive the truck with the 28-foot trailer behind.
You had earned a level of trust and responsibility, at least that is how I saw such things.
Today in a world of cellphones and laptops and GPS there seems to be time for anything. It is hard to imagine a farmer giving up a day, let alone four, five, six, to haul their animals to a summer fair, where they would show one day, and the rest of the time relax and market to the farmers walking through each day.
Today livestock producers tend toward large-scale operations, highly specialized in what they do.
The intensive rearing systems of some sectors aren’t popular with consumers, but economic factors, rates of gain, feed conversion, tell the tale for farmers. They are far superior to what the mixed farmer achieved a few decades back.
And so summer fairs have evolved. They are all about midways and grandstand shows and entertainment. Few attending venture to even look at the few 4-H animals, or goats which somehow maintain a tenacious foothold as part of a fair like the one in Yorkton. Those at the fair no longer have that close connection to the farm.
So while I wax nostalgic about fairs as the calendar turns to July, I know the clock won’t turn back, even if I wish at times like this that it would. Still for me a summer fair will be remembered as far more than they now are, and frankly better than they now are too.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor of Yorkton This Week.