The piglets at the Harford County Farm Fair in Bel Air may be the hams of the future but it was the announcer who was cracking the corny jokes yesterday as the young porkers crowded into the starting gate for the popular "Dash to the Mash" races.
At post time the skies were clear, the temperatures cool and the track fast. Five small pigs wearing racing silks scrambled around the miniature course in the day's first heat.
At the finish line they eagerly gobbled down a bowl of mash -- crushed meal and warm water -- to the delight of cheering onlookers.
These lively pig races are but one of the homespun attractions at the sixth annual fair, which was started as a tribute to the county's agricultural heritage.
Eighty-thousand visitors are expected to enjoy horse-drawn wagon rides, draft horse and polo demonstrations, antique tractor pulls and sheep dog demonstrations during the four-day event that started Thursday and ends today.
There also are helicopter rides, tractor pulls and a machine that crushes cars.
But for the most part, the fair is family oriented, with many free activities for children.
"The fair is great," said Pam Buck of Forest Hill, who brought her two children, Samantha, 20 months, and Michael, 6. "We love it. Each year it's more oriented toward kids."
"I like petting the cows, playing the games and eating the snowballs," Michael said.
Beneath one of the colorful canopy tents dotting the fairgrounds at the Harford County Equestrian Center is the animal barnyard, filled with mules, goats, exotic birds and a miniature horse owned by the Stuart family of Bel Air.
The 2-year-old mare stands just 30 inches tall and weighs only 150 pounds. The Stuart family bought one after seeing one of the tiny horses at the Farm Fair two years ago.
"We like to let people see what a miniature horse looks like and make the breed known to people," Lois Stuart said. "They're very tTC gentle. I love these little guys. They're so much fun."
The Farm Fair also showcases the efforts of Harford County 4-H Club members, such as 8-year-old Jenny Miller of White Hall. Jenny has been working for months to get her Holstein heifer, Bessie, ready for showing.
Throughout the fairgrounds, youngsters scrubbed and groomed their livestock in preparation for judging.
Tammy Nelson, 13, was busy with 11 of the 65 sheep she keeps on her family's farm in Forest Hill.
Jack Troyer, a fifth-grader at Norrisville Elementary School, brought two hogs, Sampson and Charlie, for showing and auction. His brother, Bill, entered a Hereford heifer named Curly Sue.
"I like to see them learn that hard work pays off," said the boys' mother, Pat Troyer.
She shared sleep-over duty with other parents so the children could stay overnight with their animals at the fair. Mrs. Troyer and her husband, Stony, own and show mules.
Matthew Edie, 10, lives in the White Hall area and was among the youngsters showing beef cattle at the fair.
"It's a lot of work but he enjoys it," said his mother, Wanda Edie. "We wanted a learning experience for him, and I think he's gotten it. And it's enjoyable because you have that bonding with the other kids."
Matthew's sister, 13-year-old Sarah Edie, won this year's championship ribbon in cake-decorating.
Heather King, 17, and her brother Jason, 14, who live in Jarrettsville, both captured grand champion prizes in their age groups for western riding, a style of horsemanship characterized by relaxed cowboy clothing and games such as barrel racing.
This riding style is quite different from the more formal apparel andcompetition of English riding.
"This is only the third year we've had Western riding for 4-H'ers," said Elizabeth Bova, superintendent of the Western 4-H Horse Show. "We're trying to get it going, and we'd like to encourage the English riders to try it. Western riding is fun and it's versatile."
The fair will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.
Free shuttle bus service is available from parking lots at Harford Mall, Tollgate Mall, Fallston Park-N-Ride and the former landfill on the U.S. 1 south bypass.
Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children ages 7 to 12, and free for children 6 and under.