Even though I was raised a "city boy" in Cleveland, I have long held a great appreciation for Ohio's farmers. Farmers are the backbone of our state and nation, and there's no doubt in my mind that the people of the agriculture community are among the finest citizens in the state -- committed to faith, family and hard work.
Every year I make a special trip to Columbus with my wife Janet, our children and now eight grandchildren for the Ohio State Fair. It is always so wonderful to see generations of Ohioans coming together, learning about agriculture and enjoying all the treats the fair has to offer. I'll be visiting the fair again this year on Aug. 6 and 7, and I'm looking forward to directing both the All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir and Band and showing off my kitchen skills in a cooking demonstration with June McCarthy, who was the executive chef at the governor's residence when Janet and I lived there.
Some of my fondest memories come from the families and young people I've met through the years at the fairgrounds, including those involved with our state's outstanding 4-H and FFA programs. In fact, I am proud to have established the tradition of Ohio's governor staying overnight with families in the fairground's livestock barns. I enjoyed this so much during my years as governor that I carried on the tradition with my grandchildren for a number of years as your U. S. senator.
In fact, Janet and I are one of a few couples to be inducted into the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame, and I'm proud that my name is now on the George V. Voinovich Livestock & Trade Center.
As Ohio's "Ag Governor," I loved serving as honorary auctioneer each year at the State Fair's "Sale of Champions" -- where winning market livestock are auctioned. Since its inception in 1968, the auction has become one of the most prestigious livestock auctions in the nation, with the sales going to the individual winner as well as scholarship funds going to FFA, 4-H and other fair competition winners.
As I worked to spur on bidders in the sale, I always enjoyed taking in the excitement and pride of the kids who had spent a tremendous amount of time preparing, sacrificing their free time, and giving constant attention to their livestock. I also couldn't help but notice the satisfaction and joy in the eyes of the parents who had no doubt been there every step along the way supporting their kids.
It was moments like these that made me realize how special the State Fair and programs like 4-H and FFA are to building character and molding the youth of this nation into the kind of people I want leading this country someday. If every young person in America belonged to an organization such as FFA or 4-H, just imagine the change in character we would see. These experiences at the fair have given me even more respect for the care and dedication Ohio's farmers put into their work.
Our state has a proud agricultural tradition; agriculture is Ohio's number one industry and probably always will be because the majority of our food supply comes from agriculture. The Ohio Livestock Coalition reports that Ohio has 78,000 farms covering 14.7 million acres of land and is a top producer of livestock, corn and soybeans. It also ranks in the top 10 nationally in production of pork, turkey, eggs, Swiss cheese and ice cream.
Throughout my career, I've worked to protect farmers. As governor, I created the Office of Farmland Preservation within the Department of Agriculture to ensure Ohio will always have its beautiful farmland. And in the Senate, I co-sponsored the Water Resources Development Act. Since its passage in 2007, we have seen improved transportation routes along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, getting our agricultural products to sale more quickly.
When I became governor, I realized that our Department of Agriculture had been neglected. I worked with the legislature to build a new administrative headquarters and a testing lab for the department in Reynoldsburg. We honored Ohio's long agriculture tradition by naming the lobby of the new headquarters after Louis Bromfield, the Ohio-born author and conservationist. I think that new headquarters is one of the nicest places to visit in Ohio And as I fought for the Department of Agriculture, I was pleased to have Fred Dailey by my side my, who served as secretary of agriculture for 16 years.
I have also been a strong supporter of free trade. I voted to provide the president with Trade Promotion Authority, which makes it easier for the president to negotiate trade agreements with other countries. We have also opened export markets and addressed commodity-specific trade issues, resulting in the end of Japan's embargo on U.S. beef. Free trade increases demand for Ohio's agriculture products and is critical for the future of Ohio's farmers.
I am pleased that my work on behalf of Ohio's agribusiness community has been recognized with the 2002 "Friend of the Farm Bureau Award" and the National Corn Growers Association's "President's Award" given to me in July 2003.
As the Ohio State Fair reminds us every year, we are blessed in Ohio to have such a strong agriculture community. I hope you will join me in honoring them by attending the fair -- which runs until Aug. 8.
Enjoy the entertainment, the exciting rides, and the wonderful food (I personally am looking forward to sampling the delicacy that is deep-fried bacon cheddar mashed potatoes on a stick) -- but also be sure to check out the exhibit halls, livestock buildings, and, of course, the butter sculptures. Not only will you have great fun, you will leave with a greater appreciation for the agriculture families who are working hard to lead Ohio to a brighter tomorrow.