Nothing celebrates Pennsylvania's agrarian heritage more than fair season, a tradition which dates back to the Keystone State's earliest roots.

Small towns and cities have long shared in the long rich history of fairs. That was certainly proven in 1910 when the Allentown Fair set a new one-day attendance record of 100,000. That year, those fairgoers went through an eye-popping 20 tons of sauerkraut, 60,000 pounds of frankfurters, and, according to a Tamaqua newspaper reporter, "enough beer consumed to make a river."

Now, a century later, the state's 114 county and local fairs attract more than six million people each year, shining a spotlight on one of its most vital industries – farming. A total of 36 are century fairs and four are bicentennial, which means they have been in operation 100 and 200 years, respectively.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding is making sure that those who volunteer their time and effort for their respective fairs are recognized. Two months ago, Redding took part in the opening ceremony of the 11th annual Carbon County Fair.

He presented Robert Silliman, president of the fair, with the 2010 Outstanding Fair Ambassador award, which recognizes his hard work and dedication as a fair volunteer, his commitment to the state's agriculture industry, and his outstanding leadership, volunteerism and dedication to the county fair.

"I offer my gratitude for his continued role in keeping Pennsylvania growing," said Redding that day.

This week, Redding recognized the other fair volunteers from communities throughout the state as part of the Fair Ambassador Program. In visiting the 40 fairs around the state this year, he said he saw for himself the commitment of the volunteers.

"These dedicated individuals put their regular lives on hold and work very long hours to make sure fairgoers enjoy their visit," Redding said. "In leading by example, our fair boards, committee members and volunteers ensure our young people are surrounded by great role models and dedicated community leaders."

Redding's message rings true. All too often the role models which young people idolize – such as those in sports and entertainment – can topple from their exalted perches. The best role models a young person can have these days are often those unheralded volunteers who may be our neighbors.

By Jim Zbick [1]