The Missouri State Fair looks different this year with only youth livestock shows and a handful of vendors, but Opening Day started like any other with remarks from Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe, Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn and Gov. Mike Parson.
“The state fair has only been canceled one time in the state’s history, during World War II. I can tell you what, being a farmer, growing up on a farm, having the values that I have, I didn’t want it to be under my watch that it would be the second one to be canceled,” Parson said in the Donnelly Arena, echoing remarks he’s said frequently during other press conferences and events about the fair. “I know people in this state can take personal responsibility, handle the situation in front of us, and we can still move forward with this.”
Parson said he knows Missourians can take on personal responsibility when it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped lead him to have at least some version of the Missouri State Fair in 2020 as most other states canceled their events.
“The main reason I chose to have the state fair is because what it represents, who we are, and that tradition of family, tradition of youth, tradition of being the heart and soul of what this state is,” he said. “We can do this, and we can share it with our kids. Our kids need to be doing something, they need to be out here showing livestock, they need to be together as we move forward in this state. I think all of those things are important.”
Parson spent the morning making his way around the fairgrounds, stopping by the new Director’s Pavilion followed by the Cattle Barns, an Angus show at the Coliseum, a sheep show in the Sheep Pavilion, the State Fair Fire Department, and the Swine Pavilion.
While some visitors were wearing masks Thursday, social distancing was a rare occurrence, including during the ice cream social in the Donnelly Arena hosted prior to the Opening Day remarks. A reporter asked Parson about the inconsistent messaging he is offering Missourians by asking them to social distance and wear masks while that doesn’t seem to be the case at the fair.
“... you’re in an outdoor environment, as you walk through the barns you’ll see families together but most people are doing that, most people are staying that distance. I think you’ll remember it’s also in 15-minute intervals too,” Parson said. “I think when it comes to the personal hygiene, everyone here knows how important that is, and then to wear a mask.
“We’ve always suggested wear a mask if you feel comfortable wearing a mask. We say that all the time. But people have the ability to make those choices. I think they have to make that, they understand what the risks are for their families, for their children. You have to let people understand that they have that personal responsibility. And I do think the people of Missouri have the knowledge of personal responsibility,” he said to applause from those gathered for his Opening Day speech.
During her turn at the podium, Chinn offered the same outlook on the 2020 fair, noting the importance of youth in agriculture.
“This year’s Missouri State Fair looks a little different but we’re going back to the basics and focusing on what is important and that is agriculture, but most importantly our youth in agriculture,” Chinn said. “Most of our kids started their projects last fall and they have been working diligently in learning how to care for these animals, make sure these animals are protected and taken care of, and we wanted to make sure that these kids’ hard work paid off and they were able to make it to the Missouri State Fair this year.”