Fair or not: Country living is far from ‘Little House’

If you tried to figure out what farm life is like judging by what you see at the state fair, you’d get the impression that today’s farmer spends his entire day driving in demolition derbies, eating fried dough, racing tractors, playing cow-plop bingo, eating deep-fried Twinkies, eyeballing teenage girls wearing low-rise jeans and wrapping pizza slices in bacon. How much more down-home can you get?

It’s like opening the front door of “Little House on the Prairie” and finding out Ozzy Osbourne moved in and redecorated. Oh, there are still farm things at the fair: rabbits the size of Volkswagens, cows the size of SUVs and pigs the size of sofas. If there’s a difference between a blue-ribbon cow and the first runner-up, I couldn’t spot it. It must be something she did during the talent competition.

As everywhere, gangs have infiltrated the fair. Their hoodlum symbols were everywhere – a green four-leaf clover with an “H” on each leaf. Instead of guns and knives, they carry pitchforks and cattle prods and speak in their own coded language: “Second cutting,” “freshening,” “walking fence,” “milk house,” “dry barn,” “tedders,” “spreaders” and “loaders” are just some of the words they use to communicate with their brethren.

In the big-dairy states, there is usually a butter sculpture. It is typically a tribute to some famous work of art, with life-sized figures carved entirely out of butter and displayed in a massive glass-walled refrigerator. One year I saw a butter Mount Rushmore and Rodin’s “The Thinker.” No doubt he was thinking about how clogged his veins were. Next year’s sculpture will be a butter statue of a man lying on the floor clutching his chest in agony.

The aisles of the fair sheds are full of home-canned products that have won blue ribbons – pickled cauliflower, canned string beans, beautiful beets, tasty-looking corn salsa, tomato sauce, imaginative combinations of garden vegetables – all showing the care and deep appreciation home canners have for food. Of course, there is no place at the fair where you can actually eat any of that food. Unless you want those beets stuffed into the center of a ball of ground beef wrapped in bacon and cheese, fried and lovingly crammed onto a stick.

The big crowds at the fair are not watching cows and pigs, the big crowds are where the food vendors are, or they’re out on the midway trying to win prizes by whacking moles, or riding the Vomit Comet and watching tractor pulls. The cows and the goats may be the excuse to come to the fair, but the real living spectacle at the fair are the humans in attendance.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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