Part 1

Stop and find out about the flowers

Demonstration gardens at the state fairgrounds

[AUG. 17, 2000]  Now that local residents got their fill of crunchy corn dogs, gravity-defying carnival rides and animal judging at the Logan County Fair, thereís a chance to do it all over again on a bigger scale at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. But this year, in addition to the food, rides, animals and entertainment, local gardening experts are offering fairgoers a chance to stop and smell the flowers.

Click here to see pictures of Master Gardens.

Tucked in between stalls of dairy cows and baby pigs, in front of the University of Illinois Sangamon-Menard Extension office, the Master Gardener demonstration gardens at the state fairgrounds are like an oasis of tranquillity. Not only do they provide a touch of botanical beauty, but they give people a chance to learn more about the bright, colorful flowers that sprout from every nook and cranny at the fairgrounds.

The demonstration gardens, located south of entrance gate 11 off Sangamon Avenue, were planted and tended by about 30 gardeners from the Sangamon-Menard extension unit. The demonstration project began in 1998, and the first gardens featured only herb and border plants. This year, the gardeners expanded the project to include three separate gardens: identification, herb and combination border, and ground-cover gardens.

 

 

"The concept started because so many people admire the flowers planted at the fairgrounds, but didnít know what they were because they werenít marked. This is an identification garden for that purpose," said Jennifer Fishburn, horticulture assistant at the extension office and director of the master gardener program.

There are more than 200 types of flowers at the fairgrounds, and about 100 are featured in the identification gardens. All plants at the fairgrounds, except the demonstration gardens, are grown and planted by the state departments of agriculture and corrections.

"Last year, people at the fair would come through and say they saw something planted near the entrance, and if we werenít at the entrance, we didnít know what they were describing," she said. "The identification garden is intended to help people learn what flowers they see planted at various locations around the grounds."

 

 

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Flowers in the identification garden include petunias, dusty miller, salvia, nicotiana, cannas and zinnias. All plants are labeled. Most plants were started from seed and are a sampling of what is planted on the fairgrounds, in case people have questions.

Herbs spilling over the pathway and filling the air with aroma include French tarragon, lovage, rosemary, salad burnet, cilantro, parsley, Greek oregano, lavender, fennel, garlic and basil. Annuals are on one side of the path, while perennial herbs, like six types of sage, are featured on the other. Varieties of thyme include golden, coconut, garlic, woolly, lemon, silver, creeping lemon, lavender and caraway thyme. Thyme is planted among the stones of the walkway, which meanders through the garden.

The south edge of the garden features a small, raised bed demonstrating how a very small space can provide a variety of herbs used for cooking in the kitchen. Six different herbs are planted in a three-by-three-foot area to demonstrate what can be grown in a tiny spot.

 

 

The herb area is now highlighted by a salvaged kitchen window frame, erected on posts, which gives people the illusion of a kitchen window and the view of the garden from both inside and outside the window. A single, mammoth yellow tomato plant is also featured in the herb garden.

(Note: Part 2 of this article is scheduled for posting tomorrow.)

 

[Penny Zimmerman-Wills]

 

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Part 2

A look at the Illinois State Fair

[AUG. 16, 2000]  The state fair has endured changes since its inception, when the primary goal was to promote improved methods of farming and raising livestock, along with methods of labor, industry, education, and arts and sciences. In following years, the fair was at various locations around the state, traveling from Alton to Freeport, Decatur and Chicago, until making its permanent home in Springfield in 1893. The fair has had its share of adjustments during its century and a half in existence, enduring not only a rotating list of sites and manager, but a Civil War, when premiums were awarded but there was no general fair location.

Since making its home at its current location on the north side of the city, the fairgrounds have expanded and improved as the fair itself has grown. The coliseum was built in 1901, with the dairy building, main gate, sheep and swine pavilions, 18 horse barns and grandstand all being added during the following 30 years.

The opening of the first permanently located fair was Sept. 24, 1894, and it ran for six days. Admission was 50 cents for adults, 75 cents for one person on horseback, and $1.25 for a carriage load of four people. Premiums totaled $30,000 for that year, and many of the buildings on the fairgrounds were renovated.

 

 

Currently, the fairgrounds cover 366 acres and accommodate approximately one million visitors.

During the fairís 10-day operation, it uses approximately 143 portable sanitation units; 7,100 rolls of toilet paper; 4,207 bars of soap; 13 manure trucks during the night shift; nine end loaders for manure, and 420 people hired to clean swine, horse, sheep, goat and cattle barns. Sixty loads of manure are hauled away each day, totaling 1,198 tons. A total of 400 tons of garbage are generated during the fair.

The fair has been self-sustaining with its own budget since 1996 and operates according to its success the previous year. This yearís fair has a $4 million budget.

"Our success from one year depicts what we can do the next year. Last year, we brought in $400,000 over what the budget was the previous year, so we were in pretty good shape," Ford said. Last year, an additional $300,000 was approved by the legislature for grandstand entertainment, while operating capital was increased by $200,000, and awards and premiums increased by $400,000, making the budget for this yearís fair the highest in history.

 

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Ford said Illinois is considered one of the top fairs in the country in terms of attendance figures, size and income, according to the International Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.

The fair is also fortunate to be blessed with a bevy of volunteers, who work the information booth, serve as hosts and guides, and a variety of other tasks throughout the fairgrounds. Despite the dwindling reserve of local volunteers cited by other tourist attractions in the city, Ford said the state fair has no problems enticing people to work free.

"Eighty-five percent of volunteers literally seek us out," he said. "Every year the number increases. Thatís why we feel so fortunate, because all we do is give them a couple of T-shirts. And theyíre here, religiously, for 10 days."

Ford said the fair faces competition not only from local county fairs or other state fairs, but also from other entertainment venues in Chicago and St. Louis, including casinos and concerts.

 

 

"I donít see (other fairs) as being the competition. Thereís only X amount of dollars people have for entertainment. Itís OK to have that compassion. But what we have going for us is we charge $3 admission, with special days for less admission. We have 11 total stages of entertainment, so you can come in there with a family of four and have a wonderful experience for little dollars."

[Penny Zimmerman-Wills]


Part 1

A look at the Illinois State Fair

[AUG. 15, 2000]  In 1853, members of the Illinois State Agriculture Society decided to have an event to promote agriculture and mechanical art. Sangamon County donated the use of 20 acres on Springfieldís west side and contributed $1,000 to cover expenses. Prize money was awarded for the best wine, rhubarb, peaches, ox yoke and portable grist mill. Admission was 25 cents.

Now, 148 years later, the Illinois State Fair draws approximately one million people to the city of Springfield, making it the leading tourist attraction in the city and drawing as many people during its 10-day run as the Lincoln Home and Lincoln Tomb combined. But the carnival rides, food and entertainment options are just as likely to draw people to the fair these days as the livestock and produce competition and farm equipment displays.

 

 

"The major emphasis and participation from the agriculture community was at its high when it began. In the early 1980s when there were a lot of farmers going under, it diminished. Thatís where the challenge is Ė I donít think it will ever have the same visibility it had in the early days, because farmers are different. The challenge before us is to at least have a pleasurable experience for the person coming to the fair, but at the same time, educate them to the plight of the farmer. We have an obligation," Bud Ford, state fair manager, said.

Ford, who is in his second year as manager, admits that attendance figures are less than scientific, but says, "I know last year, the first Saturday exceeded 160,000 people legitimately, and it was probably the busiest weekend day they ever had. Everyone that comes to the fair I view as a special interest. The agriculture community, and rightly so, come here because itís a tradition, itís a celebration. We have an obligation to put this on.

"Itís more than just carnival rides, grandstand, livestock," he said. "People get a twinkle in their eye when they start talking about the fair. They canít tell me the one thing they like; itís a happening. Itís a 10-day extravaganza in their mind, that they look forward to, especially in this community."

Ford said the biggest challenge facing the fairís success is an entity left to chance Ė the weather. "Weíll exceed a million (people) this year, weather permitting. We can do the best job we can possibly do, but we canít control the weather. I told my staff last year, donít get down if it rains 10 days or if itís too hot. We can control what we offer and we can do publicity, but we canít control the weather. This year, I feel we have exceeded even my expectations. I didnít know how we would top last year," said Ford, who did have to watch a severe thunderstorm hit the fairgrounds last year, during the opening night parade.

 

 

Agriculture machinery exhibits and livestock judging are now just one part of the fairís emphasis. Vendors sell a large variety of food items, from the traditional corn dogs and lemonade shake-ups to Cajun shrimp on a stick, turkey legs and alligator tail. A Taste of Illinois tent was so successful in its first year at the fair last year, itís been expanded and will offer more Illinois foods and beverages and nightly music by Chicago blues bands. A new tent this year sports a Key West theme, a personal request by Ford, who is a Jimmy Buffet fan.

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The Illinois State Fair

Address: P.O. Box 19427, Springfield, IL 62794-9427

Phone: 217/782-6661

Fax: 217/782-9115

Web site: www.state.il.us/fair/ 

E-Mail: pio@agr.state.il.us 

State Fair Manager: Bud Ford. The fair is a division under the Illinois Department of Agriculture, director Joe Hampton.

Annual budget: $4 million

Annual attendance: estimated one million people

Full-time employees: 11

Part-time employees hired by the state fair office during the fair: 300. The Department of Agricultureís building and grounds department hires an additional 400 people.

Number of volunteers: 150-200

Number of animals: 12,000 species at any given time

Amount of manure hauled away during the 10-day fair: 1,198 tons

 

The fair also features a variety of music, food and events for people of all ages Ė from Happy Hollow, with carnival games and rides to cooking demonstrations and high-diving acts; baboons to ballroom dancing; 4-H exhibits and pig racing to international cuisine and wine judging.

Each day of the fair focuses on a theme, including county fair and horse racing; city of Chicago and local officials; veterans; senior citizens; agriculture; the governor; Democrats; park district conservation and family/violence prevention.

 

 

Some people even go to the fair just to see the famous butter cow Ė an unofficial icon of the fair since the 1920s. Five hundred pounds of unsalted butter is used to sculpt the life-size figure by hand over a wire and wood frame. The process takes about two days and is featured in the dairy building.

 

 

Ford said last year was the first year the grandstand made a profit. "It had never paid for itself. The maximum it ever brought in was $600,000 to $800,000. Last year, we brought in $1.7 million. Our parking and gated admissions brought in an excess of $1 million. Concession stands, which pay (the fair) 10 to 15 percent of their profits, brought in over $1 million. Corporate sponsors donated about $200,000," he said.

[Penny Zimmerman-Wills]

 

(To Part 2 of this article)

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