The Ohio State Fair was just what we needed to rescue our spirits


Just like story of Camelot, the Ohio State Fair emerged in 2009 rather like a knight in shining armor. In the midst of the dismal economic times for the dairy industry, the fair may have been just what we all needed to rescue our spirits.

In case you did not know, the theme was “Share the Fair.” That is exactly what this extension person was able to do. My involvement included management tasks with the parlor, judging clinics and two skillathons.

More than often, I was on the inside of an event and looking outward. However, when time permitted, it was my undeniable pleasure to stand on the outside and look into happenings that involved dairy. It was a treat better than an ice cream cone on a warm day!

Indulge me just a bit as I share some of the fair stories that I was a part of.

In the dairy products building. When they unveiled the butter cow, it sent some shivers down my spine to see a tribute to dairy farm families. It was not a famous or historical figure, but instead a scene that reflected my own life.

Around the building, flat television screens explained the story and message of Ohio’s dairy farm families. What great timing for a humanistic approach to the business.

We all should stop a moment and applaud ADA Mideast and the families who told their stories.

In the milking parlor. The OSU dairy judging students manage this. It is a service provided to exhibitors. Logging in more than 120 hours open with four students on hand at all times, this is no simple task.

It is a learning experience, a networking opportunity and a good way to evaluate cattle from the business end!

Those kids gave up summer income to be there and they also put up with my enthusiastic approach to cleanliness. And just maybe, the generations learned from each other!

I would like to thank them for hours of work and countless stories that I can retell with only a few revisions!

Ringside at dairy judging clinics. We presented two of these….one for each rotation of the breeds. What a pleasure to see the ring crowded with judging hopefuls. Although sometimes reluctant to be called upon, they took advantage of an opportunity to observe, analyze, prioritize, share ideas with their peers and even presented a set of oral reasons.

Some were exhibitors, and yet others made the trip from around the state. There were 90 individual competitors!

Many thanks to Bernie Heisner and John Ayars for their leadership and also all the loyal volunteers who listened to reasons. Once again, the exhibitors gave us their best for the classes and even took time to lead their animals.

The paperwork and scoring was left to the expert, Dr. Eastridge. These details take time.

During the dairy skillathon. It was a steady flow of youth who worked their way through the maize of stations. Just about 14 volunteers were there to guide them, plus the first lady of Ohio dropped by for a visit.

Imagine trying to focus on a difficult pedigree question when you look up and see Frances Strickland at your side! What a pleasure it was to host her!

She even came into the parlor for some basic training. In case you did not know, she grew up on a dairy farm.

The art of “milking a cow.” Jessica Pembek and Paige Gott (OSU graduate students) displayed their best “cowside” manners assisting countless numbers of old and young alike to squeeze a squirt or two of milk out of the very accommodating Guernsey named Surprise.

The smiles on the faces of those who milked, touched or scratched the head of Surprise was really something special. No doubt, this story will end up in many homes as folks share their fair experiences in photos.

In the calving pen. The miracle of birth is quite a marvel, but put a very pregnant cow in the public’s view and the crowd grows dramatically as the process begins!

When it was so crowded that no more could fit in, the rest could watch this on overhead screens in the Ohio Veterinary Association area. Just a warning, don’t block the view for any reason!

After the calves were born, fair goers could even go to Facebook and Twitter pages to name them. One of the calves, named Scarlet, made it to the Channel 4 studios for an interview with Bob and Mindy.

Laura Gordon and I made the trip with her in the back of our van. Once there, Scarlet mesmerized everyone. It was bovine love at first sight. The station has even requested photos of her as she grows up!

Dairy exhibitors. The state fair is also about competitors who step onto the tanbark with hopes of winning. They come to escape some pressures of home, to sit and talk a spell with peers and even to watch history being made as 68 Jersey cows crowded the coliseum for their 50th Futurity!

Although Borden’s famous icon, Elsie the cow, was not in the special class, she did lead in the group like a real diva should!

In the dairy office. Special thanks to everyone in there who magically create programs, solve issues, keep records straight and maintain order in the barn. Even though I used the term magic, I am certain it is just old-fashioned ingenuity!

Ohio State Fair Commissioners Stacey French and Virgil Strickler. These people seem to be everywhere pulling together the separate entities, yet making us all feel needed and special. Thank you for the new hot water heater in our parlor area! It was a wonderful present!

How could I forget to mention the spectacular weather and ice cream cones just around the corner!

These are just a few of the stories of the 2009 Ohio State Fair. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the details that we forget to see the pleasures.

From my role, I view the Ohio State Fair as the tie that binds agriculture to consumers and one generation to another.

This year’s state fair proved to me that the general public is still in love with agriculture. They come to see, touch and feel that part of life that they do not have the opportunity to experience.

They cheered when the calf was born, they named calves, they squealed when a calf chewed on their shoestrings, and they loved the reality of it all, instead of seeing some picture!

These are teachable moments that can and do make a real difference when it comes to communicating modern dairy farm practices.

If you read these columns with any loyalty, you understand that I am a fan of positive youth development. It can eventually transfer to effective adult leadership, and that is what gives life to the Ohio State Fair.

More precious than funding and premiums, it is the one hope that sustains us all.

It was my pleasure to “share the fair” and now to share my stories with you, the readers of Farm and Dairy.


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Bonnie Ayars is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.


  1. Bonnie,

    Your story is what it is all about. Why we dairy farmers try to continue on during these stressful times.

    Thank you for all you do for the youth and the dairy industry. Your dedication and enthusiam is greatly appreciated.

    Maybe you would consider a transfer to Florida???!! I hear they are looking for somebody!


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