The Missouri State Fair officially begins Thursday, but there is an organization that works yearlong to highlight and promote the accomplishments of agriculture throughout Missouri.
The Missouri State Fair Foundation is dedicated not only in highlighting the best the fair has to offer annually, but it strives to preserve the heritage of the past while spotlighting the innovations of the future.
“When the Missouri State Fair began in 1899, the sole purpose was to promote agriculture in our state and highlight its economic importance,” Wendy Faulconer, executive director of the Missouri State Fair Foundation, said. “Nothing has changed today; we serve the same purpose.
“Agriculture is still the No. 1 industry in the State,” she added. “We strive to ensure the fair continues in its purpose and mission of promoting the best our state has to offer agriculturally.”
Missouri ranks in the top 10 in the nation in every agricultural commodity, according to Faulconer. It continues to be the state’s largest employer as well.
“The economic impact of the Missouri State Fair isn’t just for 11 days in August,” Matt Boatright, vice president of the State Fair Foundation, said. “The grounds are host to a number of special events that highlight agriculture and allow coming together for those events.”
For Faulconer, the true mission of the foundations work is to “cultivate the next generation of agriculture.”
That is accomplished in three ways: preservation, improvements, and education.
The Missouri State Fairgrounds are home to 64 buildings and structures that are on the national historic register.
“Part of the reason that groups and individuals come to the grounds is because of the park-like, family-friendly atmosphere here,” Faulconer said. “We have groups, like the Red Power Round-up, who tell us all the time that is one of the reasons they come here. They don’t like the modern, convention like settings some state fairgrounds provide.”
The second area, improvements, is a way Faulconer sees the Foundation giving back to its members.
“Possibly 75 percent of our 250 members are farmers or farm families,” Faulconer said. “The improvement work we do on the grounds is a way we can give back and contribute to those who support us.
In recent years, the Foundation has been responsible for the construction of the MFA Youth Livestock Arena and a heated wash barn at the Taylor Woods Youth Building.
They also made renovations to the sheep barn and purchased fans and other items for exhibitors to use.
The group is also planning to begin a tuck-pointing renovation project on several of the historic buildings on the grounds in the near future.
“We are reaching a point where some of our buildings are going to need major renovation and restoration,” Faulconer said. “We are aware of our needs and are working to meet those to maintain and improve the facilities for the generations to come.”
The third mission of the Foundation, education, also focuses on the next generation of agriculture in the State.
“We awarded 32 scholarships totaling $16,000 last year to students who are pursuing degrees in agriculture, and especially in ag education,” Faulconer said.
The proceeds from the Governor’s Ham Breakfast help fund the scholarships.
Tickets are still available for the breakfast, which begins at 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 20. Tickets are $25 and are available through Ticketmaster or at the Fair box office.
The Foundation will also host a benefit dinner tonight at 6 p.m. in the Lowell Moeller Assembly Hall. Tickets are $75 and are available through the Foundation or [email protected]
One other fundraiser the Foundation undertakes is the sale of bottled water at the Fair.
“Last year we sold 53,865 bottles of ice cold water during the Fair,” Faulconer said. “The water is $1 a bottle, and the proceeds support our efforts.
“So much of what we do wouldn’t be possible without all of the volunteers who work here,” Faulconer added. “We want individuals to know that even if they can’t become a member of the Foundation, we always welcome their time and talents.”
Faulconer said many residents across the state have ties and roots to family farms that go back generations.
“It always amazes me how many times someone will say, ‘my family used to own a farm, or live on a farm,’” Faulconer said. “I truly think that is what the Fairgrounds are all about.
“It is a way and a place where people can come back for their roots; it reminds them of who they are and where they came from. The Fairgrounds are the State’s collective family farm.”
Individuals wishing to become a member of the Missouri State Fair Foundation or with questions may visit www.mostatefairfoundation.net.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext 1484