Fourteen-year-old Chet Stem has been waiting anxiously for the Maryland State Fair. Though, like most teenagers, he enjoys the rides and the games, the main attraction for the Westminster native is the livestock competition. Chet will participate in cattle, swine and sheep competitions in what is a longtime tradition for Maryland's biggest fair, which opens tomorrow.
"You just go to the state fair as if it's the grand prize, because you don't just compete with the people in your county, you're competing against the whole state of Maryland. It's really enjoyable," said Bill Stem, Chet's father.
Chet is one of thousands of people who compete annually at the fair, officials at the fairgrounds say.
Some partake in contests for livestock, horses and smaller animals, and others come for the quilting, weaving, spinning, fine art, crafts, baking and other household arts. The fair is more than just rides and carnival food, Home Arts Superintendent Janice Coroneos said. It is a place to learn about and appreciate Maryland's rich history, particularly in agriculture.
"I think the fair now teaches kids about agriculture, because they don't know as much [about farming] as they did when I was growing up," Coroneos said.
Still, organizers say the 127th annual Maryland State Fair will be a celebration of all things Maryland.
Most of the competitors in both the indoor and outdoor contests are from around the state. The fair also includes the popular Maryland Foods Pavilion, where locals sell fresh Maryland and Chesapeake Bay-harvested food.
"It's local producers involved with Maryland food, and it's pretty neat, kind of a unique place," said Andy Cashman, assistant general manager of the state fairgrounds. His suggestion to fairgoers: Try the peach sundaes.
The fair offers a packed entertainment schedule, with concerts, games and thoroughbred horse racing. Opening night features The Beatles Tribute show, and country music star Travis Tritt will perform Aug. 29. Daily entertainment includes the Swifty Swine Pigs race and Masters of the Chainsaw sculpting contests.
But many of the daily activities aim to teach people about agriculture and farming. Cashman said that a popular site for fairgoers is the Birthing Center, where people can see calves, piglets and chicks being born. This year, agriculture students from the University of Maryland will be on hand to answer questions and help veterinarians with the births. The University of Maryland has stepped up participation in the fair in recent years, as the university tries to help farming education efforts and support its own dairy.
"The University of Maryland is bringing cattle in, which is something they haven't done in many years. They're doing a promotion for their dairy and other things that they have going on," Cashman said.
University of Maryland students will also offer Agricultural Fair tours. The tours will take participants through the fair's various barns where they can view exhibits from farmers, and learn about different types of livestock and the time that goes into raising and caring for them.
Another popular stop is the Milk-It-Yourself exhibit, hosted by the Maryland Guernsey Youth Association. Members of the association will explain the milking process and encourage people to milk cows themselves.
Coroneos thinks that these activities are the most important at the fair because they provide educational opportunities for children. "There's the Birthing Center and the petting zoo, so kids can see these animals and it's just a learning experience for them," she said.
And while the rides are not the focus of the fair, they are a major attraction for many fair attendees. Like in years past, Deggellar Attractions will provide the rides. The company will debut the Quad Runner and Typhoon rides for thrill-seekers, Cashman said.
The fair will also host the successful Ridemania Preview Night once again. For reduced fees, people can ride from 5 to 11 tonight, though no buildings or exhibits will be open.
The Maryland State Fair offers a little bit of everything for everyone, organizers say. For livestock farmers like Chet Stem, it is a place to proudly display years of hard work. For longtime fairgoers like Janice Coroneos, it is an end-of-summer ritual that is eagerly anticipated each year.
"I've been coming to the fair since I was born," the 55-year-old said. "It's kind of the end of the summer to me. I enjoy seeing the people and what they've done throughout the year."