Fair offers a taste of farm living

From far and near, visitors come to four-day event in Bel Air for food, games, exhibitions, contests

August 03, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

The Mahoney family moved from Bel Air to Denver 12 years ago, but they return every summer, timing their trip to coincide with the Harford County Farm Fair.

"We still have to come back to go to the fair," Fran Mahoney said.

They made a day of it Thursday, accompanied by the Kotula family of Fallston, their hosts. Before hopping on a shuttle bus, Mahoney and Teresa Kotula, longtime friends and Bel Air High alumnae, gathered their kids in the parking lot for their annual fair photo.

Kotula handed a bystander a camera and joined the group pose. It would be close to dark before they would return home.

"We come every year," Kotula said. "There is nothing around that is this reasonable for simple, plain fun. We love the vendors and the games. All the kids look forward to it."

Patrick Mahoney, 11, said he still has the trick pen he won at last year's fair and was eager to take in the pig races. Rebecca Kotula, 12, said she prefers the pig exhibits and the swine show.

"I would love to raise a piglet, but my mom probably would not go for it," she said.

The 21st annual fair opened Thursday and continues through today at the Equestrian Center on Tollgate Road in Bel Air. Hours today are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Visitors will find entertainment, games and exhibits ranging from livestock and art to vegetables so perfect that they look like art. First-time exhibitor Patrick Huff, 11, of Street won first place for his carrots.

"You just have to plant them, weed them and then pick them," he said.

Fair-goers get to taste local fare, including the homemade ice cream and home-grown peaches being given away by the county Department of Agriculture. They can try their luck at a frog-jumping contest, take a pit challenge with a remote-powered racing car or watch high-flying, fast-swimming dogs.

"It's kid-friendly entertainment," said Remona Fletcher of Street, who brings her grandchildren every year. "I feel they are safe here."

Her grandchildren watched their cousin win grand champion with his entry in the goat show last year and wanted to cheer him on to a possible repeat performance.

"This fair is so country," said Regina Bauer, superintendent of fair crafts. "It's not about games or a carnival. It's all about the farm."

Few travel from as far as Colorado, but thousands come from Harford and the surrounding counties and southern Pennsylvania.

Dawn Janssen brought her three young children from Holtwood, Pa., to see their cousin show pigs at the fair. The children, who sang songs from The Lion King on the drive, told their mother they wanted to see wild animals.

"There is plenty here for them to see," she said. "I don't think they will be disappointed."

Within minutes of arriving, 4-year-old Kendal Janssen could boast, "I petted a snake" in the Home Arts Tent. In addition to seeing a python or two, visitors to that tent might also spot a blue-tongued skink - a type of lizard - exotic birds and an African tortoise.

Lydia Braun, 12, of Whiteford, a 4-H member for three years, entered art projects, eight chickens and her cat Josie, and won a first-place ribbon for her black snake, Rockie.

"I found her in the driveway last year and have been taking care of her ever since," she said. "I like entering my pets in the exhibits."

Lydia might have brought more to exhibit from her home in Whiteford, but her mother, Heather Braun, had to put a halt to that.

"There is only so much room in the truck," she said.

Sisters Valerie Nichols, 11, and Robin Nichols, 13, showed eight pets, including a tortoise, skink and python. They took the animals home to Abingdon at noon and turned right around to participate in the archery competition later Thursday afternoon. They entered their dogs in obedience trials scheduled for today.

"4-H is the best thing they could have gotten into," said their mother, Vickie Gillis. "It is all about kids learning on their own and facing fun challenges. And it's affordable for families of today."

In his first show at the fair, Joshua Schimming, 13, of Jarrettsville won grand champion for grooming and showmanship of the horse he has trained for the past five months.

"We are buddies," said Joshua, dressed in riding attire and nuzzling 800-pound Ben. "The only thing I don't like is getting this dressed up."

Dock Dogs, a national competition new to the fair this year, drew large, enthusiastic crowds. Dogs race along a 40-foot-long dock to fetch an object tossed into a 41-foot-long pool. A slow-motion camera pinpoints the exact spot where the dog's tail lands in the pool - the world record, held by a greyhound mix, is 28 feet, 10 inches, organizers said.

"You can see some high-flying dogs in these events," said Dan Bryant of Waldorf, whose Labrador retriever, Maggie, jumped nearly 20 feet. "The dogs have a good time, and we get to hang out with dog people."

Bill Gallas, a Forest Hill resident celebrating his 69th birthday at the fair, decided to let his dog, Yeller, take a turn at the competition. He overthrew the pool and the orange baton landed in the bleachers. Yeller swam the length of the pool, jumped out and tried to find the baton amid the crowd.

"We should have practiced," Gallas said.

After several hours at the fair, Dawn Janssen loaded her tired brood into the family van. They had numerous balloons and souvenirs, and the drippings from snow cones on their shirts.

"There is so much to do that we didn't get to it all," Janssen said. "We will definitely come back, and earlier next time."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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