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The annual Caroline County Agricultural Fair means different things to many different people from Caroline, surrounding counties, and even more distant locales.
Although Meadow Event Park hosts the State Fair each autumn, Caroline’s Ag Fair offers the sort of friendly, informal county fair atmosphere that is increasingly difficult to find.
To 4-Hers from Caroline, Hanover, and Stafford County, it is an opportunity to show their goats, lambs, hogs, calves, chickens, and geese and compete for blue ribbons. To their younger siblings it is a chance to test the waters in the Clover Bud and Pee Wee shows.
The fair is an opportunity for young and old to compete for ribbons in produce, baked goods, preserves, pickles, and canned fruit and vegetable categories in the Home Goods Building.
Longtime Extension Agent Mac Saphir and young volunteers did a great job running the Pee Wee shows in which young boys and girls received hands-on experience in showing goats and swine. Older volunteers were on hand to provide showmanship tips and, in the case of the very feisty pigs, separate the animals from one another.
Saphir told the participants, some as young as 3 years old, that “a pig is like a muscular bowling ball, very heavy, very muscular and very strong.”
Games of athletic (and appetite) ability challenged teens and adults in the Hay Bale Toss, Corn Shucking Contest, and Pie and Watermelon eating contests. Add the popular Kids Peddle Tractor Pull, Caroline Idol Competition, and Youth Talent Show, Rooster Crowing Contest, and Pig Calling Contest, and almost everyone had a shot at fame, or at least bragging rights until next year.
The Ag Fair also offered a chance to ride a mechanical bull or to ride a camel. Parker Gathercole and his aunt, Ada Strong-Overton, took the ride of their lives on the camel. It was six bucks well spent and they will be talking about it for years.
Those who wanted to spectate, rather than participate, also found much to see and do, including a petting zoo that featured common and uncommon animals. This reporter saw a Patagonian Cavvy for the very first time.
Young Tommy Miller and his mom Barbie, of Edinburg, made friends with a camel in the petting zoo. The Millers timed a visit to Tommy’s grandparents in Bowling Green in order to go to the fair.
The Racing Pigs (and racing ducks) drew big crowds each night. State Sen. Ryan McDougle and his wife Robyn and daughter Reagan were among the throng Friday night, and Reagan loved the racing pigs.
Also crowd pleasers were the Teeny Weeny Circus, which featured a genial clown and his talented dogs and mathematically skilled pony, and Brad Matchett’s Agricadabra farm themed magic and hypnotist show.
The Midway with its carnival rides was also popular. Emily Clarke of Hanover County celebrated the success of her entries in the goat and geese judging categories by taking in rides with her best friend, McKenzie Buchannon.
Giveaways were also popular. Show goers were greeted by Turkey Hill’s giant cow and given a free ice cream – delicious!
Hayley Hall, 5, of Nokesville was one of many children to receive a free red fireman’s helmet from Robert Eaby, recruiter for Caroline County Fire & Rescue. It was warm Friday night and BB&T gave fair goers ice-cold bottles of water and fans.
BB&T also brought in Raleigh, N.C.-based The Embers, which packed the entertainment tent Friday with their brand of Beach Music, just as that legendary band has been doing since 1958. Fueled by nostalgia, adrenaline – and soft drinks and adult beverages poured by the Caroline Moose Lodge – a big crowd of 40, 50, and 60-somethings rocked the night away.
On Saturday, the home-grown bluegrass band Milford Station and rock band Casper also drew large and enthusiastic crowds to the entertainment tent.
With so much to choose from, the Agricultural Fair pleased many interests and tastes.
State Del. Buddy Fowler gave his legislative seal of approval Thursday evening to a juicy cheeseburger served up by volunteers from the Frog Level Fire Department. Other vendors offered crab cakes, ribs, barbecue, and traditional fair food like Italian sausage sandwiches and hot dogs – even a daily blueplate special.
This year’s Ag Fair broke previous attendance record with more than 10,500 people passing through the turnstiles July 9-12, according to Fair Association President Fran Whittaker. She credited “perfect fair weather for July” and the new-for-2014 Antique Tractor Pull with boosting attendance. “This contest drew participants from all over Virginia and Maryland,” she added.
“Fairgoers continued to enjoy the animal displays in Caroline’s Barn, the live demonstrations by the Civil War Civilians of Spotsylvania, the ‘Kitchen of Yesteryear’ 1950s display, camel and pony rides and the always popular racing pigs and ducks,” Whittaker added.
On Saturday, 128 fair patrons donated 777 cans of food for the Caroline Department of Social Services Food Pantry in exchange for free admission to the fair.
Of course, staging a four-day fair is labor intensive.
“The Caroline County Agricultural Fair Association is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization with 15 trustees and about 50 members,” Whittaker said. “Additionally, volunteers were supplied by Wright’s Chapel United Methodist Church, the Madison Ruritan Club, Boy Scout Troop 173, 4-H, FFA, and the Caroline Moose Lodge.
“There were other volunteers not affiliated with these organizations, young people wanting community service hours for college, work colleagues of fair members, and people who show up to work the fair every year, such as Debbie Gallion, who always works in Caroline’s Barn, Nancy Garner, who monitors the homegoods exhibits, and Pat Morris, who coordinates the welcome tent volunteers.
“Volunteers are not only used during the four-day fair but for setup weeks and the dismantling on Sunday,” Whittaker said. ”There were hundreds of volunteers.”