Louisville may be the state's largest city, but for 11 days each August it becomes the center of rural Kentucky at its best.
Sure, city people enjoy the Kentucky State Fair, too. Just ask Farm Bureau Freddie, the giant talking statue that has been welcoming visitors to the fair for 52 years.
The fair has midway rides, concerts, corn dogs, vendors and booths promoting just about every organization in the state.
You can buy picture frames, porch swings and storm windows, get a mammogram or prostate screening and learn a tractor-trailer load about Abraham Lincoln at the Kentucky Historical Society's history mobile.
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Huge exhibit halls show average Kentuckians' art and crafts, from quilts to paintings, baskets, Christmas trees, homemade beer and intentionally ugly lamps.
But to truly appreciate rural Kentucky and the people who live there, turn left after you say hello to Freddie, cut through Freedom Hall and wander through the vast livestock pavilions and into Broadbent Arena.
Here you will find farm families from across the state, showing off the bounty of their hard work, rich land and considerable ingenuity.
"There's so much pride in Kentucky, and this is where it all comes together," said Miss Kentucky Mallory Ervin, a Union County farm girl. "I've been coming here since I was little, but they treat you a little better when you have a crown on your head."
Ervin was enjoying her celebrity role at this year's fair, even if she was afraid to eat any funnel cakes. The Miss America pageant is only five months away.
Besides, the "Kentucky Proud" food she was promoting is more nutritious. The Great Kentucky Cookout Tent is the place to eat. I got a country ham sandwich, but the barbecue, pork chops, steak, catfish and trout looked tempting, too.
Inside the air-conditioned pavilions, one room held prize-winning hay and honey. Another was filled with caged rabbits, pigeons, chickens and dairy goats. They will move out Monday to make room for sheep and swine.
As I walked by, I watched big, strong men carefully cradling their fluffy bunnies on the way to the judges' tables.
"It's a fabulous hobby; they don't bark, but they will bite," said Michael Wiley of Stamping Ground, the secretary-treasurer of the American English Spot Rabbit Club. "I started out in 4H when I was 10 years old. Now I'm 62."
This week's schedule includes the World Championship Horse Show, plus shows for Morgan, quarter and miniature horses.
Last week, dairy cows were the stars. Bathed and freshly clipped, they lounged in fresh hay as they awaited their turn in the show ring. Some stalls were quite fancy: framed photos of cattle, white picket fences and chairs embroidered with the farm's name or logo.
"I've been coming up here for 37 years," said The Rev. Sammy Adkins of Somerset, who was watching over his son's prize cattle. "It's a good family vacation. You know where your kids are and what they're doing."
In fact, the next generation of Kentucky farmers was everywhere. Many proudly wore their blue corduroy Future Farmers of America jackets, even when they went outside in the heat.
These kids know food doesn't come from a grocery. They know that state fair competitions lead to better-quality food and that farming isn't a way to make a living so much as a way of life.
Dan Shearer's Jessamine County family has been showing prize-winning Ayrshire cattle at the Kentucky State Fair for three decades. This year, his four grandchildren, ages 12 to 21, were carrying on the tradition.
"There's a whole lot of work involved, but it's good for the kids," said Shearer's son, Danny. "When kids grow up on a farm, it teaches them about animals. It also teaches them responsibility. "
I stood beside the ring in Broadbent Arena for more than an hour, watching and photographing impressive kids with fine-looking cattle.
My favorite may have been Taylor Graves, 10, of Perryville. Her father, dairy farmer Ray Graves, said she started showing goats almost as soon as she could walk. This was her second year in the ring with the family's Brown Swiss cattle.
The cows were at least 10-times bigger than Taylor, but she was in control. She skillfully paraded them around the ring, petting and rubbing each one when they followed her lead and stood still at the appropriate times. When they tried to pull away, she just as confidently got their attention with a hard smack.
What does Taylor like best about being a farm girl?
"Getting to play with the animals," she said with a shy voice — and a pocket full of blue ribbons.