Preparing to get caught up in all the `ag-citement'

4-H fair to showcase agricultural heritage while offering fun for all

July 24, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The first of nearly 20,000 exhibits arrive Thursday at the fairgrounds in Westminster. Tractor operators compete on an obstacle course Friday morning as 4-H members submit their fowl for judging. By evening, a popular country and western artist will have crowds singing and feet stomping in the horse ring.

The 108th Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair, which opens Thursday and will run through Aug. 5, will be filled with the event's signature "ag-citement." Visitors to the Ag Center, home to the fair, will see mules jumping and pulling, pigs racing and swimming and the county's premier livestock groomed to perfection and competing for prizes.

"The fair is a wonderful opportunity to showcase Carroll County's agricultural heritage, often to people who don't live in areas where farming is everywhere," said Barbara Beverungen, county director of tourism. "Our fair is truly all about 4-H. It's free, and there are no rides. Those are at the fire carnivals."

The Carroll fair is one of the last free fairs in the state, said Denise Ziegler, fair spokeswoman. Although it lacks Ferris wheel thrills, it does offer a few rides -- transport trams for feed, gear and occasionally people, and shuttles from several nearby parking lots.

Among the vendors, visitors will find a massage chair enterprise offering trial seating to those tired of walking among thousands of exhibits.

The Andy Griggs concert at 8 p.m. Friday in the horse show ring is the only event that requires a ticket, but even that comes with a free soda. Organizers are hoping to sell about 5,000 tickets to the concert, which benefits 4-H projects. Admission is $10 in advance or $12 at the door.

Griggs will perform his hit country song, "If Heaven," as well as tunes from his new CD. Griggs requested a pre-concert, home-cooked meal.

"We have heard that [Griggs' group] are good, down-home people who enjoy the types of things our fair has to offer," said Sally Cappadora, vice chairwoman of the fair. "Obviously, they are not after fancy restaurant food and Perrier."

It's bring-your-own lawn chairs and take a seat on the same ground that horses will pound the next day.

"It is a little like Merriweather Pavilion, only you will be sitting in a horse ring," Ziegler said.

The fair offers other twilight concerts, dancing, a parade, exhibits and auctions. Whimsical contests are open to anyone willing to make a milkshake mustache, spit a Tootsie Roll as far as possible or crow like a rooster.

The annual cake auction, which raised nearly $60,000 last year, and the livestock show and sale are perennial events.

"The fair has a vital economic impact on the ag community, particularly the livestock sale," said Gabe Zepp, the county's ag marketing specialist. "Livestock grown here utilizes local vets, feed mills and farms and is purchased by buyers throughout the region. This one week of activity contributes greatly to agriculture throughout the year."

Ziegler gives each of her two children a piglet every Easter -- "I keep trying to put a pig in an Easter basket, but it doesn't work," she said. Lukas, 11, and Bethany, 15, also raise lambs from birth to show at the fair.

"They will be showing and hopefully selling," Ziegler said. "Sometimes, the kids get rewards for their work. Sometimes, they don't. It is one of life's hard lessons."

One fair day is dedicated to children, who can compete in a pedal-tractor pull, be a farmer for a day and show off any pets small enough for them to handle. Another day belongs to seniors, who can compare their grandkids' essays and photos.

"We have an essay contest that gives 4-Hers a chance to say why their grandparents are great," Denise Ziegler said.

New to the 2005 fair are monster trucks and miniature horses. Before the 7:30 p.m. show Aug. 5, the trucks will be on display at Koons of Westminster on Route 140.

"The trucks are huge, souped-up looking things that run over stuff," Ziegler said.

The miniature horses debut on an obstacle course set up on opening day at the fairgrounds.

"Miniature horses are a new venture for the fair," Cappadora said. "There is an increased interest in these horses throughout the county. They are affordable, easy to handle and they don't cost as much to feed as the big guys. Families are really getting into them."

Also new is a non-denominational worship service at 10 a.m. Sunday followed at noon by the Gospel Travelers performance.

More than 75,000 visitors came to the fair last year, when the $5.5 million Danele Shipley Arena, a 52,500-square-foot building with a show ring and enough room to exhibit 1,000 animals, was a big draw.

Attendance increased by about 15,000 from last year, when weather delayed completion of the arena and many events were held in tents. Ziegler is predicting larger crowds this year.

"The fair just keeps growing," she said. "The arena has helped it a lot. But we also have a lot of new people in the county who want to see what we are all about. You can bring the family every day and find something different to do."

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