If you love a parade, plan to be in Des Moines Wednesday evening at 6:15.
That's when what's billed as the state's largest parade will be the kickoff event for what may well be the grandest of our nation's state agricultural festivals - the Iowa State Fair.
Iowans gathered in Fairfield for the first state fair in 1854 - just eight years after achieving statehood. That fair boasted an attendance of about 8,000. In the early years, the fair's venue changed frequently. It wasn't until 1879 that Des Moines became its home. It took up residence at the present site in 1886.
The more than 150 years that have elapsed since the State Fair began have witnessed many changes, but agriculture was then and remains today central to the state's economic life.
In the 21st century, the Iowa State Fair continues to celebrate agriculture, but also highlights in exhibits and through entertainment countless other aspects of contemporary American life.
For the many 4-H'ers and FFA members from all across Iowa who have worked hard throughout the year on assorted projects, the State Fair represents the final and most prestigious stage of exhibition and competition.
This year's fair runs from Thursday through Aug. 19. The more than 1 million visitors expected to pay a call at the Iowa State Fairgrounds will not only be amused and entertained, but also will have ample opportunities for educational enrichment.
The 2012 Iowa State Fair has so much to offer that no preview can fully capture the variety. Among its features are:
One of the planet's grandest livestock shows;
What organizers tout as the country's largest state fair foods department - about 900 classes;
Iowa's largest arts show;
Literally hundreds of competitive events and contests;
Well in excess of 600 exhibitors and concessionaires;
Grandstand entertainment that covers an immense range of tastes including such diverse options as TobyMac, the Happy Together Tour, Larry the Cable Guy, Miranda Lambert, Deery Brothers Summer Series for Late Models, The Band Perry, the Grand Outlaw National Tractor and Truck Pull, Big Time Rush, Hank Williams Jr., a demolition derby, Journey with Pat Benatar and Loverboy, Rascal Flatts with Little Big Town, Eli Young Band and Edens Edge; and
There's also an impressive array of free stage entertainment.
The facilities are spread across 400 acres and include 160 acres of campgrounds. Some of the fair buildings are examples of classic, exposition-style architecture dating from the late 19th century and early 20th century. The mix of fully modern structures with venues that recall earlier eras gives the State Fair both a charm and functionality that are truly remarkable. Visits to many of its locales are a multigenerational family tradition. Fun coupled with nostalgia are very much the order of the day for countless visitors.
If you haven't already made plans to head to the fair, there's ample time to reconsider.
People travel from all over the nation and journey from many foreign lands to partake of the extraordinary experience that is the Iowa State Fair. Don't miss out on a world-class event right in your own backyard.
See you at the fair.