LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- From giant pumpkins to industrial hemp and donut hamburgers, when the Kentucky State Fair opens next week eyes focus on a wide variety of topics from the traditional to things some may find controversial or even downright bizarre.
But each topic is finding itself as a key aspect of an industry important to the Commonwealth's economy.
Commissioner Quarles admits he was a bit nervous with excitement this time last year as he approached his first State Fair as Ag Commissioner. He’d spent a lifetime competing and taking part in the expo described by some as the “Super Bowl for farm kids.” Commissioner Quarles, a farm kid himself, now leads the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and is involved in the national agriculture conversation having offered insight advising the Donald Trump campaign last summer.
His favorite part of last year’s Kentucky State Fair was handing out awards to young people at dozens of competitions.
This week, he and his team are making final preparations for the fair which expects to welcome more than a half million people to Louisville from August 17 to 27. This is a tradition spanning generations for some families, not just displaying wares, but taking in the fun and crazy food options. The Commissioner hopes to perfect his “food game” this time after admitting to gaining six pounds last year.
"This year I'm doubling down with the donut burger,” said Commissioner Quarles. “It's a ½ lb. between two Krispy Kreme donuts. I wasn't able to finish it last year, but this year we're going to do it and we're going to have as much homemade ice cream as one could possibly have at the State Fair.”
While he may reign over the fair as a goodwill ambassador, there is serious business at hand which includes reacting to last month's deadly accident at the Ohio State Fair.
Quarles insists that inspectors check on the rides before the venue opens to crowds and there will be surprise inspections during the fair.
He added, “And although we always want to make sure that people have a safe and fun time, please know that the Department of Agriculture staff is doing our best to make sure that the rides are properly inspected."
There are also somewhat controversial topics on display. Again, this year there will be a focus on the growing market of industrial hemp. Commissioner Quarles has tripled the number of approved acres farming industrial hemp while medical marijuana is not in the discussion.
"One of the reasons why industrial hemp is so successful in this state is because we haven't commingled it with other issues and so, in 2017, we're focused entirely on industrial hemp,” said Quarles.
He added that the KDA has yet to take an official position on medical marijuana.
The conversation Commissioner Quarles spanned the spectrum of politics and agriculture. We discussed immigration related agriculture issues as well as foreign trade and efforts to reduce regulation. You can see the full interview here.