Fair managers hope to keep ag alive with education, conversation
Could rodeos go the way of the circus?
Ringling Brothers recently packed up its tent for the last time, and as the nation grows more removed from agriculture, there's both pressure and opportunity.
It's on the minds of those who manage rodeos and livestock shows - how do they reach an audience that's more removed from agriculture than ever?
Showing livestock is a way of life for many farm kids, but those who run livestock shows face pressure - both internal and external.
Fair and rodeo managers recently got a closer look at the facilities constructed for the Nebraska State Fair.
They appreciate livestock is the focus.
"Fairs are about our agricultural lifestyle, and this fairgrounds has done an exceptional job," said Donna Woolam of the Eastern Estates Exposition.
The livestock show managers said showcasing agriculture is more important than ever as most people never step foot on a farm.
"And because they are further and further removed, it is essential we as expositions are part of that education of agriculture," Woolam said.
They hope fairs can start conversations about how animals are raised.
"They're necessary in the industry so people see the right side of right, and know what good's going on with livestock and their well-being," said Aaron Owen of Ozark Empire Fair.
Those who run livestock shows and rodeos say they've encountered what they call activist groups.
On its website, Peta says "4-H hardens young hearts," and offers advice for those who want to shut down rodeos.
"We have encountered that. Part of our training at this conference is how to address those issues and work with those people and how to educate the people of the country on what agriculture is for them and how animal agriculture brings to them," Woolam said.
They want to show they're doing things by the book.
But just as the Nebraska State Fair has seen a few cases of failed drug tests, other fairs, too, emphasize integrity.
"We have had our challenges with that as well. It's no different than coaching baseball. If you keep parents on the outside the fence, we'd have a good game on the inside," Owen said. "I keep reminding our parents it's about the kids, it's about the health and safety of the food chain."
They want to provide a level playing field for kids who show their sheep, cattle and goats, while also educating the public about the care that goes into animal agriculture.
"As stewards of the land and their animals, we do take care of our animals and we do take care of the land, it's our life," Woolam said.
They were especially impressed with Raising Nebraska, the interactive exhibit that teaches kids about agriculture.
Many say it's a dream to create something like that at their fairs.