SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City looks a lot different than when the Utah State Fair was first established in 1856.
It was nine years after the pioneers first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, according to utahstatefair.com, when the Deseret Fair opened for the first time as a “space to display some of the finest products from their own homes, shops and fields.” During its initial years, the fair was held at locations that, in today’s urban landscape, would seem out of place — locations such as where the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, Salt Palace Convention Center and Trolley Square now sit.
“One of the functionalities in the beginning of things like state fairs were that people didn’t live in as dense of urbanized centers as we do now, so it was an opportunity for people from more rural areas to be able to come together to be able to share their (agricultural) practices,” said Shannon Jones, an associate instructor in the University of Utah’s Department of Nutrition and Integrated Physiology, in an interview with the Deseret News.
But as America became more industrialized and urban, a smaller and smaller portion of the workforce was living off their own land and a greater and greater number were leaving rural areas to work for wages, Jones said.
“We had to buy everything. We couldn’t just make it. We couldn’t go out in our back 40 and get our chicken and grab the food out of the garden,” she said. “It just became a very different way to relate to ourselves and to one another.”
Yet even with that shift from rural to urban, the Utah State Fair still exists 162 years later, and what’s more, over 270,000 people attended the fair last year, according to Judy Duncombe, director of the state fair.
But how does an event so rooted in agriculture stay relevant?
Duncombe said evidence of its pertinence is in one of the most frequently asked questions at the fair.
“The two most often asked questions are ‘Where are the restrooms?’ and ‘Where are the baby pigs?’” she said, adding that survey after survey has shown that it is the animals that are the No. 1 thing that draws people to the fair.
“I think that today the relevance of fairs is even more important because there aren’t as many people involved in (agriculture),” she said. “It becomes a really important thing for the…