Summer Rite Returns

64th Howard County Fair

Weeklong Event Offers Animals, Food And A Look Back At Area's Farm Heritage

August 09, 2009|By Janene Holzberg | Janene Holzberg,Special to The Baltimore Sun

As the Howard County Fair celebrates its 64th season this year, it still puts the emphasis on farming and a simpler way of life.

"We strive very hard to maintain our agricultural roots," said H. Mitchell Day, fair association president. "Children born here now don't have as much opportunity to know about farming firsthand."

At the fair, which started Saturday and continues through this coming Saturday, there will be a wealth of shows with horses, ponies, sheep, rabbits, cattle, mules, swine and goats, as well as dogs and other pets. Animals, obviously, rule the day.

For those interested in the preparation and consumption of food, a pie-eating contest, 4-H baked goods auction and Iron Chef Competition, featuring contestants from Atholton, Hammond, Marriotts Ridge and Mount Hebron high schools, will fill the bill.

The usual contests to find the prettiest babies as well as Miss Howard County Farm Bureau will be held. Nightly musical entertainment will include country, rock and bluegrass. Parades will open and close the fair.

In other words, planners have crammed this year's schedule with all the events and activities that fairgoers have come to expect.

While the lack of change is the fair's real charm, this year there have been a few modifications made to the familiar site off Interstate 70 and a few new festivities added to the time-honored mix of fun and learning.

The Home Arts Building recently got a new ceiling, lighting and air conditioning, but "we were tempted at first to just put up a whole new building," Day said. "We decided we wanted to maintain the old character of the original structures."

Giving directions to fairgoers has historically been tough, he continued, until the association hit on the idea of naming the roads. There are Midway Boulevard, Exhibitor's Lane and Bridle Path, to name a few. Maps and brochures will reflect these changes.

Association members turned to one of the oldest of group activities for one of their "new" offerings when they twice included an old-fashioned tug of war as part of the nighttime festivities, said Day.

Participants in the first round on Wednesday will be members of the public safety professions, from police officers to firefighters to sheriff's deputies. On Thursday, regular folks are encouraged to take part.

And yes, there will be an oversized muddy ditch to motivate everyone to pull with all the brute strength they can muster. Teams are limited to 16 members and can't exceed a total of 1,800 pounds.

This event in particular emphasizes a philosophy of the fair association, said Day.

"The fair is founded on answering the question, 'What can we do to make sure people have fun and develop team spirit?' " he said. "Anybody can be a participant and not just an observer in many cases."

The first archery tournament is slated for today at 1 p.m., another new component relying on a very old sport.

A new event with the longest title at the fair is surely "Healthy Howard's Help Yourself to a Healthy Home," which will take place Monday. County extension coordinator Christine Lothen-Kline said instruction on multiple topics will be discussed by multiple sources, including representatives of the Green Building Institute.

Given the inundation of media warnings to thoroughly wash hands to help reduce the spread of swine flu, there may be a stampede to try out a hand-washing station with a fluorescent twist.

Participants apply a gel that causes germs to glow when their hands are placed under a black light. After washing, hands are repositioned under the light to see if there are traces of glowing germs remaining.

"Ninety-five percent of the time, there are still germs that weren't washed away, especially around the fingernails," said Lothen-Kline. "It's a real eye-opener."

This Saturday, the county's Office on Environmental Sustainability will host Live Green Howard County, which will focus on issues that can reduce the county's carbon footprint, she said.

A returning act that draws interest each year is master of the chain saw Mark Tyoe, an out-of-state artist who travels the fair circuit creating wood sculptures.

"He makes a lot of things - animals, American flags - but bears are his specialty and he's really very good," said Day. Tyoe appears four times a day on each day of the fair and his carvings will be auctioned for as much as $200 apiece Saturday. The proceeds are donated to the fair association's scholarship fund.

An annual crowd-pleaser that returns Thursday night is the talent show, which "just becomes larger and larger each year, thanks to popular TV programs like 'American Idol,' " said the association head.

And of course, "the biggest thing the fair promotes" is the importance of supporting farmers by purchasing fresh produce, said Day. And it only makes sense to buy local, he added, given reports in the news of various tainted foods.

"Fortunately, it's been a great growing season, and we're anticipating an increase in crops," he said.

"But it is most definitely very satisfying to hear people talk about wanting to eat foods grown close to home," Day said.

For a complete fair schedule, directions and other information, go to howardcountyfair.org.

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