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Agricultural Exhibitions

I must have attended not less than fifty State or County Fairs for the

exhibition (mainly) of Agricultural Machines and Products. From all

these, I should have learned something, and presume I did; but I

cannot now say what. Hence, I conclude that these Fairs are not what

they might and should be. In other words, they should be improved. But


As the people compose much the largest and best part of the
e shows, the

reform must begin with them. Two-thirds of them go to a Fair with no

desire to learn therefrom--no belief that they can there be taught

anything. Of course, not seeking, they do not find. If they could but

realize that a Farmer's Fair might and should teach farmers somewhat

that would serve them in their vocation, a great point would be gained.

But they go in quest of entertainment, and find this mainly in


Of all human opportunities for instruction in humility and

self-depreciation, the average public speaker's is the best. He hurries

to a place where he has been told that his presence and utterance are

earnestly and generally desired--perhaps to find that his invitation

came from an insignificant and odious handful, who had some private ax

to grind so repugnant to the great majority that they refuse to

countenance the procedure, no matter how great the temptation. Even

where there is no such feud, many, having satiated their curiosity by a

long stare at him, walk whistling off, without waiting or wishing to

hear him. But the speaker at a Fair must compete with a thousand

counter-attractions, the least of them far more popular and winning than

he can hope to be. He is heard, so far as he is heard at all, in

presence of and competition with all the bellowing bulls, braying,

jacks, and squealing stallions, in the county; if he holds,

nevertheless, a quarter of the crowd, he does well: but let two jockeys

start a buggy-race around the convenient track, and the last auditor

shuts his ears and runs off to enjoy the spectacle. Decidedly, I insist

that a Fair-ground is poorly adapted to the diffusion of Agricultural

knowledge--that the people present acquire very little information

there, even when they get all they want.

What is needed to render our annual Fairs useful and instructive far

beyond precedent, I sum up as follows:

I. Each farmer in the county or township should hold himself bound to

make some contribution thereto. If only a good hill of Corn, a peck of

Potatoes, a bunch of Grapes, a Squash, a Melon, let him send that. If he

can send all of these, so much the better. There is very rarely a

thrifty farmer who could not add to the attractions and merits of a Fair

if he would try. If he could send a coop of superior Fowls, a likely

Calf, or a first-rate Cow, better yet; but nine-tenths of our farmers

regard a Fair as something wherewith they have nothing to do, except as

spectators. When it is half over, they lounge into it with hands in

their pockets, stare about for an hour, and go home protesting that they

could beat nearly everything they saw there. Then why did they not try?

How can we have good Fairs, if those who might make the best display of

products save themselves the trouble by not making any? The average

meagerness of our Fairs, so generally and justly complained of, is not

the fault of those who sent what they had, but of those who, having

better, were too lazy to send anything. Until this is radically changed,

and the blame fastened on those who might have contributed, but did not,

our Fairs cannot help being generally meager and poor.

II. It seems to me that there is great need of an interesting and

faithful running commentary on the various articles exhibited. A

competent person should be employed to give an hour's off-hand talk on

the cattle and horses on hand, explaining the diverse merits and faults

of the several breeds there exhibited, and of the representatives of

those breeds then present. If any are peculiarly adapted to the

locality, let that fact be duly set forth, with the simple object of

enabling farmers to breed more intelligently, and more profitably. Then

let the implements and machinery on exhibition be likewise explained and

discussed, and let their superiority in whatever respect to those they

have superseded or are designed to supersede be clearly pointed out. So,

if there be any new Grain, Vegetable, or Fruit, on the tables, let it be

made the subject of capable and thoroughly impartial discussion, before

such only as choose to listen, and without putting the mere sightseers

to grave inconvenience. A lecture-room should always be attached to a

Fair-ground, yet so secluded as to shut out the noise inseparable from a

crowded exhibition. Here, meetings should be held each evening, for

general discussion; every one being encouraged to state concisely the

impressions made on him, and the improvements suggested to him, by what

he had seen. Do let us try to reflect and consider more at these

gatherings, even though at the cost of seeing less.

III. The well supported Agricultural Society of a rich and populous

county must be able, or should be able, to give two or three liberal

premiums for general proficiency in farming. If $100 could be proffered

to the owner or manager of the best tilled farm in the county, $50 to

the owner of the best orchard, and $50 to the boy under 18 years of age

who grew the best acre of Corn or Roots that year, I am confident that

an impulse would thereby be given to agricultural progress. Our premiums

are too numerous and too petty, because so few, are willing to

contribute with no expectation of personal benefit or distinction. If

we had but the right spirit aroused, we might dispense with most of our

petty premiums, or replace them by medals of no great cost, and devote

the money thus saved to higher and nobler ends.

IV. Much of the speaking at Fairs seems to me insulting to the

intelligence of the Farmers present, who are grossly flattered and

eulogized, when they often need to be admonished and incited to mend

their ways. What use or sense can there be in a lawyer, doctor, broker,

or editor, talking to a crowd of farmers as if they were the most

favored of mortals and their life the noblest and happiest known to

mankind? Whatever it might be, and may yet become, we all know that the

average farmer's life is not what it is thus represented: for, if it

were, thousands would be rushing into it where barely hundreds left it:

whereas we all see that the fact is quite otherwise. No good can result

from such insincere and extravagant praises of a calling which so few

freely choose, and so many gladly shun. Grant that the farmer's ought

to be the most enviable and envied vocation, we know that in fact it

is not and, agreeing that it should be, the business in hand is to

make it so. There must be obstacles to surmount, mistakes to set right,

impediments to overcome, before farming can be in all respects the

idolized pursuit which poets are so ready to proclaim it and orators so

delight to represent it. Let us struggle to make it all that fancy has

ever painted it; but, so long as it is not, let us respect undeniable

facts, and characterize it exactly as it is.

V. If our counties were thoroughly canvassed by township committees, and

each tiller of the soil asked to pledge himself in writing to exhibit

something at the next County Fair, we should soon witness a decided

improvement. Many would be incited to attend who now stay away; while

the very general complaint that there is nothing worth coming to see

would be heard no more. As yet, a majority of farmers regard the Fair

much as they do a circus or traveling menagerie, taking no interest in

it except as it may afford them entertainment for the passing hour. We

must change this essentially; and the first step is to induce, by

concerted solicitation, at least half the farmers in the county to

pledge themselves each to exhibit something at the next annual Fair, or

pay $5 toward increasing its premiums.

VI. In short, we must all realize that the County or Township Fair is

our Fair--not got up by others to invite our patronage or criticism,

but something whereto it is incumbent on us to contribute, and which

must be better or worse as we choose to make it. Realizing this, let us

stop carping and give a shoulder to the wheel.