FUNNY BUSINESS: Land sakes! State Fair celebrates farms of all sizes

Mike Redmond
August 21, 2006
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I take a back seat to no one in my love of the Indiana State Fair. I haven't missed one in about 35 years-including those years when the fair seemed outmoded, doomed to go the way of the Model T and the icebox.

I was there when it struggled through the Injun Andy mascot debacle, the concerts with attendance numbering in the dozens, and the shocking revelation that elephant ears did not come from actual elephants.

And so I have been happy and proud to see the fair transform itself into a runaway success, with record attendance, wonderful attractions, great programming and spiffy improvements to the fairgrounds. It has become an event to rival the legendary state fairs of Texas and Minnesota and Iowa. For me, it's the highlight of the summer and a wonderful celebration of our state and its people.

However ...

As a Hoosier In Good Standing (with Born In A Small Town and Family Farm Background bonus points), I am aware of a myth that ran rampant yet again this fair season-one where Indiana is a land where Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Jehosephat and Aunt Tarnation still work the farm, fetching things and heading out to the Back Forty, peppering their conversations with ruralisms like "Land sakes!" and "My stars!" and "Don't that beat all get out!"

I call it the Green Acres Phenomenon-the persistent urban belief that there exists a bucolic life near a place called Hooterville. Check your maps, folks. There is no Hooterville in Indiana. Well, actually, there IS a Hooterville, but I don't think a nightclub on Pendleton Pike counts as bucolic.

Now, most of our farms are still family farms-which, let's remember, is another way to say "family business"-and Indiana still has a powerful agricultural presence. We are the nation's No.1 duck provider and place fifth in production of hogs, laying hens and corn, according to the 2002 Census of Agriculture State Profile. But then, you probably knew that from having your own copy, right there on the nightstand.

Nowadays, farming in general, and that includes Indiana, has more in common with Archer Daniels Midland than Oliver Wendell Douglas, and it doesn't matter if Arnold Ziffel is the smartest person-I mean, pig-in town; he's still going to wind up as bacon.

In the years I have attended the fair without fail (I missed a few during kidhood), the number of farms in Indiana has declined from 103,000 (1972) to 59,000 (a week ago Tuesday). Looks to me like Grandma and Grandpa sold, either to that nice man with the plans for a subdivision or those folks from the food conglomerate. Uncle J and Aunt T might still live in the old house (Grandma and Grandpa moved to Florida), but they got jobs in town.

I know. Maybe they decided to buy out the neighbors and grow the farm into one of those multi-thousand-acre behemoths, big enough to have its own ZIP code, or started factory farming for the food conglomerates.

So where does the State Fair come in? Glad you asked.

Since we can see the farming of yesteryear at the beloved Pioneer Village (or, as I also like to call it, Amish Tomorrowland), maybe we should have another place set aside to reflect the new reality:

"Attention, fair-goers: Don't forget to visit the Worldwide Food Factory Farm Funland! Stop by Swoon Lagoon for our hourly presentations on Modern Manure Management (not to be confused with the seminar of the same name over at the Statehouse). You'll want to see our laugha-minute comedy show, Big Fat Fun With Corn Syrup, so stick around. And be sure to sample some of our fine factory farm products--Cheek-by-Jowl Bacon, De-Ranged Chicken and Milk From Discontented Cows!"

OK, maybe not. I just creeped myself out.

Besides, I saw a statistic from the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service showing another transformation: Significant growth-that's right, growth-in small farms, those between 10 and 49 acres.

Some are play farms owned by Olivers and Lisas moving out from the city, sure, but there is a notable increase in niche farms, raising everything from elk and buffalo to organic foods and fresh flowers. They maintain close relationships with consumers and put the lie to the notion that the small farmer is doomed to extinction. The people who run them are nothing like the goobers you saw hanging around Drucker's Store on TV. They're smart, savvy, hard-working and committed to small farming, smart business and the state of Indiana.

Which may beat all get out. Or not. I can't say for sure because I don't really know what that means. I may be a Hoosier with a farm background, but nobody in our family ever talked like that. We spoke English.

Mike Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly.You can reach him at mredmond@ibj.com.

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  1. why oh why does this state continue to elect these people....do you wonder how much was graft out of the 3.8 billion?

  2. i too think this is a great idea. I think the vision and need is there as well. But also agree with Wendy that there may be better location in our city to fulfill this vision and help grow the sports of hockey and figure skating in Indy. Also to help further develop other parts of the city that seem often forgotten. Any of the other 6 townships out side of the three northernmost could benefit greatly from a facility and a vision like this. For a vision that sounds philanthropic, the location is appears more about the money. Would really like to see it elsewhere, but still wish the development the best of luck, as we can always use more ice in the city. As for the Ice growth when they return, if schedules can be coordinated with the Fuel, what could be better than to have high level hockey available to go see every weekend of the season? Good luck with the development and the return of the Ice.

  3. How many parking spaces do they have at Ironworks? Will residents have reserved spaces or will they have to troll for a space among the people that are there at Ruth Chris & Sangiovese?

  4. You do not get speeding ticket first time you speed and this is not first time Mr.Page has speed. One act should not define a man and this one act won't. He got off with a slap on the wrist. I agree with judge no person was injured by his actions. The state was robbed of money by paying too much rent for a building and that money could have been used for social services. The Page family maybe "generous" with their money but for most part all of it is dirty money that he obtained for sources that are not on the upright. Page is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name. He paid off this judge like he has many other tine and walked away. Does he still have his license. I believe so. Hire him to get you confiscated drug money back. He will. It will cost you.

  5. I remain amazed at the level of expertise of the average Internet Television Executive. Obviously they have all the answers and know the business inside and out.