It's that time of year again, time to pull out the hay and pig pens and closely guarded family recipes for apple pie. And grooming the horses and cows is a must, too. Now is the time to show off the results of all the year's hard work, on and off the farm.
It's time for the Maryland State Fair.
To its long list of old favorites, the 118-year-old fair has added some new events and returned some past events that haven't been seen in a while. Besides the traditional livestock shows, rides and arts and crafts, this year's fair will feature a number of opportunities for experiences a little out of the ordinary.
Probably the strangest of the events is the birthing center, where spectators will be able to watch as dairy cows and pigs give birth, right there at the fair.
It may sound a bit creepy, but according to Andy Cashman, assistant general manager of the State Fair, birthing centers have been very successful at fairs in other states.
The cows and pigs used in the center are raised by local farmers and have due dates that coincide with the dates for the birthing center at the fair, Sept. 3-6, Labor Day Weekend. How fitting.
"It's amazing," Cashman says. "You never know when it's going to happen. When it does happen, it draws such a crowd." Sometimes labor is induced in the animals.
The birthing center, he says, offers "an opportunity for folks to see how cows ands pigs do give birth." During each birth, students from the Maryland/Virginia Regional Veterinary School will assist the animals and give spectators information about what is going on throughout the process.
Many animal mothers are highly protective of their young, but Cashman says that no one but the veterinary students will be close enough to the animals to have to worry. But those students better watch their hands.
Agricultural game show
How can you tell what color eggs a chicken will lay? According to Sondra Wallace, owner of the Texas-based Barn Tours company, all you have to do is look at the color of its earlobes - that is, if you were even aware that chickens had earlobes.
At several times during each day of the fair, visitors can get a tour of some of the barns where livestock is kept. The Barn Tours -- guided journeys that include information about the farming industry -- will be given by farmers and professors from colleges and universities including Texas Tech, California's Chico State and Minnesota State. A few college students -- some are agriculture majors and some come from agricultural families -- may also give tours.
Wallace says that many people are surprised at the amusing things they learn, but she says they shouldn't be. "The truth is funnier than anything we could ever make up," she says.
After each of the tours, participants can join the "On the Farm Game Show." By answering multiple choice and true/false questions, contestants compete for hats, T-shirts and blue ribbons.
A group of international extreme-sport champions is slated to perform at the fair this year, many of them professional snowboarders and skiers. This event would seem all too practical in winter, but how will they pull off their mastery of the snow in the sticky heat of late August?
Craig Peterson -- the 1985 world freestyle snow skiing champion and enthusiastic director of the Max-Air Freestyle Ski Jumping, Snowboarding and Trampoline Show -- has it all figured out. He says the group uses the world's largest snowboarding ramp, covered in a pronged rubber material. Peterson says the surface is much like a rubber outdoor mat, "only it's 10 times more expensive," at about $70 per square foot. Peterson says the ramp is then covered in a soap-and-water solution, making it every bit as slippery as snow. Then, the group gets the show on the road -- on the ramp, that is.
Peterson says the show, based in Salt Lake City, has enjoyed a great deal of popularity in its 15-year run. "We travel all over the world with this show," he says. The group has been to Thailand, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica and performed at the opening of the ESPN Zone restaurant at the Inner Harbor.
Although designating each day of the fair for the sampling of a different kind of food is nothing unusual, this year's addition to the menu may be a bit of a change for many fairgoers. Tomorrow, the Maryland State Fair's opening day, is emu day. Those daring enough can get a taste of this 5- to 6-foot-tall relative of the ostrich.
Roy Arce, a Westminster-area emu farmer and president of the Maryland Emu Association, says that emu "tastes similar to beef, but it's very lean." He adds that the bird's meat is about 97 percent fat-free.