I hope you will join me at the Merced County Fair this week

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, at work.
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, at work. AP

I was raised in and around agriculture, and like many of you, visited the fair growing up.

We tend to take our county fairgrounds and annual fairs for granted. Working in the legislature I am frequently confronted with people and interests that disproportionately represent large urban areas and to whom our challenges and way of life are truly foreign.

This reminds me why it’s so important to appreciate and preserve our fairs.

An example of these divergent priorities was the decision in 2011 to eliminate a 75-year-old continuous appropriation that helped keep our fairgrounds well-maintained.

In 2017, I authored a bill which restored some of that funding by requiring that a portion of sales taxes generated at fairgrounds to go directly back into a fund for their maintenance. This will generate approximately $15 million per year and will fund high priority projects at our fair such as the air conditioning upgrade project at the Pavilion.

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Max Tu, 7, of Chino Hills, pets a small goat inside the Great American Petting Zoo at the Merced County Fair in Merced, Calif., Saturday, June 11, 2016. Andrew Kuhn akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Nonprofit organizations like Friends of the Fair have done an amazing job raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to help fill in the gaps and construct beautiful new structures like the Hilmar Cheese Barn, where critical ag-education programs are showcased.

Facilities like ours provide important community gathering places, staging locations for emergency personnel during natural disasters (as we have seen during the recent wildfires), and support life-changing educational programs like FFA and 4-H.

In fact, last year’s livestock auctions (which included at least 800 animals) generated almost $900 thousand while providing the next generation of farmers, ranchers, and scientists with invaluable experience. And while ag education programs generate significant activity and revenue, the fair is about so much more than that today.

Earlier this week, Merced Fair CEO Teresa Burrola, Board Members Lori Gallo and Kim Rogina treated me to a preview tour of some of the exciting new aspects of the fair.

This year, visitors can expect a fully immersive, family-oriented educational experience with a number of exciting exhibits geared towards curious young minds.

The newly expanded “Discovering Science” exhibit is an interactive experience based on the STREAM curriculum and includes a “Mobile Makers Space” complete with opportunities to build robots, fly drones, experience augmented reality, and learn about sustainability, all in partnership with UC Merced.

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Gavin Moore, 9, of Dos Palos brushes his goat Lucy at the Merced County Fair on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. The fair, which opened Wednesday, continues through Sunday with livestock, carnival rides, live music and junk food. Thaddeus Miller tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

The “Kids Discovery Station” gives families a glimpse of the upcoming Children’s Museum, and the “Safari Adventure” provides an engaging, hands-on experience with reptiles, bugs, and birds, accompanied by multiple wildlife talks.

Most importantly, all of these exhibits are free of charge and provide an opportunity for children of all backgrounds to play and learn.

Finally, many recent capital improvements such as three beautiful murals, enhanced street lighting, newly planted redwood trees, and festive string lighting enhance the environment and improve safety.

I strongly encourage you to visit the fair this year, especially if you haven’t attended in a while. You will be pleasantly surprised to see how the various changes have come together to provide a new experience.

Our local fair has an incredible impact on the economy, generating approximately $23 million in economic activity and creating the equivalent of 238 jobs.

I hope you will join me at the fair this week.