The Arkansas State Fair grew from a livestock competition first held in 1938, and such competitions remain a vital aspect to the present day.
THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL
Getting Primed for the Arkansas State Fair
By: Kat Robinson Photography: Brian Chilson and Kat Robinson
Each October, thousands come out to the Arkansas State Fairground for the largest gathering in the state–the Arkansas State Fair and Livestock Show. While many come just for the rides, food and concerts, the Fair itself was built on friendly competition—and an effort to showcase the best of Arkansas.
In fact, the Fair began not as a way to entertain the public, but to showcase the agricultural world. After a survey conducted by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service found that livestock would likely be successful as an Arkansas agricultural venture, a group of individuals created an exposition to showcase the state’s stock. The first Arkansas Livestock Show was held in November 1938 in North Little Rock. Though it lost money, the idea had been planted. The next year the event was moved to mid-October for better weather, and famed cowboy crooner Roy Rogers was brought in for entertainment. Thus the Arkansas State Fair was established. It was moved to its permanent site along Roosevelt Road in 1945 and remains there to this day.
Since then, such attractions as the latest popular amusement rides, concerts featuring popular musical acts (from Gene Autry and Johnny Cash to this year’s headliners, Bret Michaels and Rick Springfield) and outrageous food have spread throughout the fairgrounds over the ten day course of events. But at the heart of the Fair lies the same commitment to supporting agricultural interests, livestock and friendly competition as in its early days.
The Arkansas Livestock Show includes shows for cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and rabbits. The shows fall in two categories—a junior show for competitors ages 9-19 through 4-H limited to Arkansas residents, and an open competition open to everyone. Tanya Stark, who works with livestock competitions at the Fair, says the competitors form a community that’s at the fairgrounds the duration of the State Fair.
“The people who show in our fair receive a pass to get in to show their animals,” Tanya offers. “We have a lot of people who stay all week. A lot of kids will show sheep the first weekend, goats on Monday, rabbits…a lot of the kids show multiple animals.”
From left to righ: Rabbits are just one of the animals shown in competition at the fair. Winemakers can also compete in the Hall of Industry. Author Kat Robinson’s daughter, Hunter, feeds a goat at the Ag in Action exhibit.
There are camper hookups available for a fee, and male and female dorms on site where overnight guests can pay to stay and receive meals, too. The Arkansas State Fair also has a contract with a hotel in town for competitors to stay on a special rate. Parents, agri-class teachers and parents can also get in on the housing options.
Stark says the number of participants is on the increase. “We’ve got about 100 entries in our junior market show,” she says. “It’s growing and we are thankful.”
New to the Fair this year? Miniature cattle and donkey shows.
“A miniature donkey association approached us, and we’re including their show in the fair this year. There’s been a real interest in these animals. They have to be hip high–so 48 inches or less,” Stark relates.
Competition doesn’t end at the barn. For those interested in arts, crafts and cooking competitions, the Creative Arts Building is the place to visit.
“A lot of people don’t know that you can enter the fair all the way up to October 8,” says Deb Crow, the director of the Arkansas Livestock Show Association archive collection and the coordinator for creative arts at the fair. “You can enter online through September 13–but after that, you can send in your paperwork by fax or in person through September 30, or bring it with you when you bring your entries to drop off.”
There are a host of possibilities for entering, from traditional categories such as quilting, sewing, and other textile arts to photography, drawing, painting, pottery, jams and jellies and other food preparations—dozens of categories in all.
“We have four categories–adults, senior youth, junior youth and youth,” Deb shares. “There are three categories for the kids because an eight-year old’s entry shouldn’t be up an entry from a much older child.” Creative arts competitions are open to everyone.
During the fair, there are several special cooking competitions, including the Arkansas Honey Cooking Competition, Petit Jean Meats Cooking Competition, Arkansas State Fair Pie Competition, the First Lady’s Pie Contest, Arkansas Farm Bureau Rice Competition and the Great American Spam Competition. There’s also a floral arrangement competition hosted by Floral Express. Participants are encouraged to register in advance, but entries are accepted the day of the contest as well. There’s also the Baby Contest, Little Mister and Little Miss Arkansas State Fair and two competitions–the Missus (age 40-60) and Senior Missus (age 61 and up) contests.
Even for attendees who aren’t competing, there are opportunities to view the arts, crafts and livestock at the state fair. You can even feed and touch some of the animals.
“The FFA sponsors an Ag in Action Barn,” Stark says. “The FFA superintendent collects animals and offers a petting zoo and livestock agricultural displays and seminars, just to educate people about livestock and agriculture.”
If you’re interested in competing at the Arkansas State Fair or would like more information on this year’s events, check out arkansasstatefair.com.