Tradition and Pride | Fairs in Rural America

OUTdrive episode 49 with Mark Wolfe: Tradition and Pride Fairs in Rural America

OUTdrive Episode 49 with Mark Wolfe

In this episode of OUTdrive, Cliff visits with Mark Wolfe about the tradition and pride that set the foundation for fairs in rural America. Mark is the Director of the Missouri State Fair and strategically leads efforts for the greatest ten days of Missouri summer. This year marks the 118th Missouri State Fair and festivities are set to kick off August 12.

While there have been many changes over the years, many things remain the same. Mark and his team are working tirelessly to continue the family traditions and memories that so many fairgoers treasure, and Callis has had the privilege of joining in their efforts for over twenty years. We’re all looking forward to another year of connecting with fellow fairgoers, attending events and exhibitions and preparing for what we hope is the biggest fair yet.

Keep reading to learn more as Cliff and Mark discuss the unforgettable experience of the fair, how the annual event has evolved over the years and how the team continues to adapt to connect with fairgoers today. We also discuss what’s in store for the upcoming year, the impact of COVID-19 and the rich history and tradition of the fair.

The Missouri State Fair Experience

This year will be the 118th Missouri State Fair, and many traditions have been formed over the years. These traditions and the unique experience of the fair are what drive attendees to return year after year. Like many fairs, the Missouri State Fair offers a wide variety of events, live entertainment and educational opportunities to learn about Missouri agriculture and more. Mark shares that this is one of the appealing aspects of the fair.

“You can see Nashville recording artists, great livestock and a multitude of things all day long,” says Mark. “We open at seven in the morning and a lot of days we’re open until midnight, so there’s an opportunity to come out and spend a day and see a lot of things. You can learn about agriculture, support these kids and future ag leaders and yet be entertained with other things at the same time.”

Whether you are attending the fair as a first time visitor or are showing livestock for the fifth time, there is always something new to learn at the fair. Mark shares that this is one of his favorite parts.

“I think the opportunity to educate our kids and help them understand that agriculture is a good thing and that the folks in agriculture are the best stewards of the land and the best stewards of livestock,” says Mark. “Maybe the parents do understand and maybe their kids don’t, and I think an opportunity to bring them to the fair and see some of these things in person is pretty cool.”

Agriculture has been at the heart of the fair since the beginning, and continues to be today. Each year, individuals from all walks of life have the opportunity to learn about the industry in one way or another. No matter what they learn, they’re united by the tradition and strong work ethic shared by rural Americans. When asked by Cliff what comes to mind when he thinks of rural America, Mark puts it simply.

“My first vision is hard working people,” says Mark. “People that are honest and that understand what it takes to be in agriculture and do the things that we do to feed, clothe and fuel the world. I just see good, hardworking people that understand what it takes to be successful.”

The Missouri State Fair enables those in the agriculture industry to share their knowledge with thousands of other hardworking rural Americans, and attendees from all walks of life can develop strong connections in just ten short days. It may not be long, but it’s an unforgettable experience.

The Tradition of Fairs

The fair has a rich history of agriculture and education, and the buildings on the fairgrounds also have a unique history and rich architecture, which Mark appreciates as a former construction professional. The buildings also provide the opportunity to host additional events throughout the year, which helps the team stay ready for the annual fair.

“In the summer when we’re busy, we could have a livestock show going on, a wedding reception, a tractor pull maybe going on at the Grandstand,” says Mark. “We’ve always worked really hard to keep the cost for people to use the fairgrounds as low as we can and still offset our expenses. But the best way to maintain something is to use it, and when it comes to facilities, it’s the same way.”

This year, the rich history of the Missouri State Fair is being complemented by the Missouri State Bicentennial. While Missouri became a state on August 10, 1821, the Missouri Bicentennial is being celebrated all year long. Mark shares that the fair is incorporating the celebration into the fair. To learn more about the Missouri Bicentennial, check out episode 43 of OUTdrive with Michael Sweeney, Missouri State Bicentennial Coordinator for The State Historical Society of Missouri.

Fairs After COVID

As the 2021 fair approaches, many are looking forward to what is expected to be the biggest year yet. In 2020, the fair returned to its roots as a traditional youth livestock show only. While it didn’t include all aspects of the usual fair, the livestock show still had a great turnout.

“We didn’t have 350,000 people over 11 days, but I’m sure we had in excess of 20,000 with families coming and going just to do their exhibits,” says Mark. “It ended up that a lot of other fairs fell back and did the same thing or something similar. So kudos to the fair industry for being resilient and saying, ‘Hey, there are ways we can do this safely and still accomplish some of what we’re all about.’”

This year’s fair is expected to be back and better than ever, with many fairgoers excited to attend their favorite events and visit their favorite exhibits at the fair. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in canceled events across the country, leading to a pent up demand for in-person experiences this year. The fair team is preparing for fairgoers to arrive, tending to the grounds and ensuring that even the smallest details are finalized.

Concert lineups are being announced, competition entries are now open and more announcements will be coming shortly. If you haven’t already, start planning your trip to the 2021 Missouri State Fair by visiting or following the fair on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Learn more about the history of the fair and what’s in store for 2021 from Cliff and Mark in this episode of OUTdrive.