This article was originally published by The Hutchison News, 14 September 2022

Queenslander Alison Mobb’s spends two weeks visiting fairs in USA and Canada as part of her Australia Rural Leadership Foundation scholarship exploring showgrounds focusing on their multi-purpose facilities and management structures.

Alison Mobbs’ love of fairs and her ties to agriculture run deep.

Her father was the wool steward at their regional agricultural show for 36 years. She won a young women’s leadership title 26 years ago, and today she runs a Simmental cattle ranch with her husband, Rhett, in “the Sunshine State,” where he’s also a cattle judge at their largest agricultural show.

But Mobbs came a bit further than most visitors to this year’s event in Hutchinson.

The Queensland, Australia, resident selected the Kansas State Fair as one of several in the U.S. to visit during a two-week fact-finding trip for Australia’s Western Downs Regional Council, where she works in asset planning.

“I won a scholarship from the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation to do a two-week, all-expense paid study tour,” Mobbs advised the Kansas State Fair Board as she visited during its daily meeting on Sunday. “I did a lot of online research to try to find out who is doing the best with their fairgrounds, based on innovation in agriculture and how we can integrate that into our fairgrounds.”

Before Hutchinson, she visited the Utah State Fair in Salt Lake City. From here she’ll go to Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock, Ontario, then the International Fair Expo in north Texas, followed by the Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City.

Similar but different

While interested in the operation of the annual fair, she’s especially interested in multi-purpose sites, she said, that use the grounds for different purposes year-round “to make them more sustainable.”

She’s also focused on organizational and management structures and how they can better serve their communities, especially around agriculture.

“Not just the economics, but the social benefits of the fairgrounds,” she said.

Her council manages 700 buildings at 230 sites, including seven fairgrounds, which they call show grounds, that vary in size, Mobbs said.

Their largest show is the Royal Queensland Show in Brisbane during the second and third week of August, also known as the Ekka, where they have competitions similar to those in Kansas in terms of livestock, foods, and arts and crafts.

They also display farm machinery and have a lot of government agency displays and daily entertainment.

“We have fashion parades, sometimes cotton and wool, where you have to spin it, make a garment and wear it,” she said.

They have “Miss Showgirl” and “Rural Ambassador” leadership competitions for women and men, ages 18 to 35, respectively. Miss Showgirl was the title she earned years ago in Queensland, Mobbs said.

But the majority of the competition involves adults, she said. They don’t have programs like the FFA and 4-H, “or big movements in youth leadership.”

Biggest takeaways

“The biggest thing I’m taking away is the investment in young people,” she said. “Not in monetary terms but the importance of your FFA and 4-H to the fairgrounds and all your fairs. That’s something Australia could do a lot better … Certainly investing in young people bodes well for your future.”

“That’s one of the key things I’m taking back, the passion and commitment of involving young people,” Mobbs said.

Among the surprising things she was introduced to were cheese curds, Pronto pups and iced tea.

“And we don’t have pedal pulls,” she said, of the popular annual competition involving children pulling weights behind pedal-powered toy tractors. “I was astonished to find something so simple that engaged hundreds and hundreds of children.”

“Our first show in Australia was in 1882 in Hobart, near Tasmania,” Mobbs said. “We have 587 shows a year across six states and two territories. We do have a state fair equivalent in the capital city.

“In Queensland, we have 129 shows across the state, involving 30,000 volunteers. They range in size from 300 people up to the Ekka, where 400,000 people come through the gates. But mostly they’re small to medium, run by volunteers.”

Mobbs was interested in the structure of the Fair Board and the Fairgrounds Foundation and how they worked collaboratively.

The seven fairgrounds she mentioned in Australia are under various types of ownership, from nonprofit to agricultural organizations to some run by councils of trustees.

“The ownership and government structure here is very interesting to me,” Mobbs said. “We have a lot of inherited systems in Australia. How you pull people together to manage these grounds is amazing. The infrastructure you have here is fantastic. And the way you work as a team and the whole atmosphere is beautiful.”

Leaving the Kansas State Fair impressed

Mobbs was complimentary of the fair’s website, for its ease of use and how much information it provides to the public “on when and where and how and who.”

“It’s amazing the different range of activities that are part of your fair,” she said.

Mobbs also found how the State Fair balances agriculture with entertainment enlightening.

“Australia is looking at more entertainment and less ag, but here it’s ag-based,” she said. “You’ve got the balance right, where you can have a fantastic concert with 6,000 people as a great income earner and event for the fair. But if you don’t have the agricultural component of the fair, the value culturally and socially is not there. Particularly in urban settings, promoting agriculture in the community is so important.”

“The hospitality and willingness to share, not just the great things you do, but how you do them, was fantastic,” Mobbs said.