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State Fair still shows our state's farm roots

HURON -- Twenty years ago or so, South Dakota stood at the edge of losing our State Fair. Through the determination of a lot of people, the fair continues today. The 2016 fair opened a five-day run Thursday. Many of the people reading this won't go.

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HURON - Twenty years ago or so, South Dakota stood at the edge of losing our State Fair.

Through the determination of a lot of people, the fair continues today. The 2016 fair opened a five-day run Thursday.

Many of the people reading this won't go. No matter how good your car or truck is, a long drive to Huron is a long drive to Huron.

And I happen to like Huron. Like so many places in South Dakota, if you nose around a little there are good things to enjoy.

For the people who do go this weekend, the State Fair is an important event.

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The chickens and rabbits, and cows and sows, and plants and such make this party happen.

They are agriculture. And agriculture made South Dakota happen.

Agriculture still does, across most of the vast state, in the most basic ways.

The State Fair remains true to its origin. It began as a way for a new society to showcase progress.

In that sense, the State Fair might be the most culturally insensitive event held each year in South Dakota.

But unlike the recent change of Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak, no one is petitioning a federal commission to end the State Fair.

The fair is agriculture at its South Dakota best. Farm and ranch families compete to be the best at what they grow.

It's rewarding to see families making their way through the fairgrounds. It might be an older parent and an adult child. Or a grandmother with youngsters darting about. It might be a line stretching eight wide.

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The fair is a place for people to meet again, to buy fried cheese curds for $7 or all the cold milk you want for $3, and talk.

It's a place to get your free yardstick from DeSmet Farm Mutual Insurance. Stamped Made in the U.S.A., by the way.

Wandering around the fair on an 85-degree afternoon Thursday was easy. The crowd hadn't gathered yet. No puddles or mud to dodge. It was still plenty busy, though, and you needed to be aware of the golf carts ferrying people from here to there.

One reason the State Fair doesn't draw like it once did is competition. In the weeks before the State Fair, there are good regional fairs at Aberdeen, Sioux Falls and Rapid City, and there's Dakotafest at Mitchell.

The regional fairs feature good entertainment and midways. They too are great places to meet friends and let the kids run. Nobody in the Legislature ever fought to keep those fairs alive.

South Dakota tried many ways to make the State Fair a bigger draw. During the Janklow years, a lot of money and effort went into improving buildings. It was one of the first places to have work crews of state prison inmates.

The successive managers and the State Fair Commission worked diligently to make the fairgrounds more of a year-round site for other gatherings. In the Legislature, no one talks any more about closing it.

The State Fair is a South Dakota institution. Its future seems safe, for now. But it's certainly not certain.

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