I get excited every summer when the huge white canvas tents go up, signaling the opening of the county fair. My mouth waters with the anticipation of spicy sausages sizzling on the grill and thick, freshly made waffle cones for delicious ice cream.
But county fairs are more than a place to grab a bite to eat. Fairs are one of the few places where you can stroll the midway, play games and enjoy rides, while viewing livestock, country crafts and farm equipment. For newcomers to rural living, fairs are a great place to learn and make contacts.
These fairs started as agricultural gatherings where farmers showcased the results of their hard work. In return, counties offered entrants the chance to compete for prizes that raised the value of their livestock at auction. County fairs still are partially subsidized by the state and county, as long as the county cooperative extension office oversees the competition. But you don’t need to belong to a 4-H or extension program to vie for satin souvenirs at your county’s fair.
Today’s county fairs offer a variety of competitions under “open class.” This category was designed for people who want to display their talents but don’t belong to an extension organization. Open class competitions vary widely by county. Categories range from standard crops, floral and livestock, to specialized crafts such as photography, winemaking, needlework, ceramics, quilting, woodworking and more. Each county fair publishes a guide called a “premium book.” This lists all the entry requirements for each category, along with any entry fees and rewards. Some fairs award cash prizes along with ribbons to each group of winners.
To learn about the fairs that are happening in your area, a good place to start is the Web site for the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.