Thursday, October 16, 2014

Agri-tourists Part 2 of 3: Virginia State Fair

So growing up, I never realized just how unique things like our county fair and state fair were.  These were not events where we went to ride amusement rides or play games (though the state fair does have that option), but places we went to exhibit and see livestock and other homemaker, 4-H, or educational projects.  We'd have tasty food too just because we were there.

I feel like around here, people mainly just go for the rides.  Sigh.

But, it was still really fun to take the boys to the Virginia State Fair a couple weeks ago.  To have a state fair in October is so different, since the weather actually makes it enjoyable to be outside all day, and all the fall decorations give the whole place a very different feel.

In my experience, the only other two state fairs I've been to are Indiana and Delaware, as I still regret never making it out to Arizona's.   As I wrote back then, Delaware's was basically just a big county fair to me (which makes sense, since there are only three counties in DE and they don't hold local fairs).  I expected Virginia to be a lot larger since there is a lot more agriculture in this state.  In some ways it was, in others, not so much.

My thoughts and impressions...
$15 for admission!  At least Eli was free, I can't remember exactly what ages had to pay.  I'm used to getting free exhibitor tickets...

It was very strange to see all the VSU and Virginia Tech information everywhere, since I'm used to seeing Purdue blasted all over everything.

Their horticulture display was pretty interesting, and I liked checking out the peanut plants and the sweet potato harvester, since those aren't plants grown in my native land.  There was a petting zoo in the tent, and the kids got to explore five different types of seeds, and walk away with a free jar filled with them.  The largest pumpkin competition was pretty fabulous.  The rabbit/poultry barn was here, as well as a pigeon and dove barn (something you don't see in IN).  Their dozens of rabbits can't really compete with Indiana's huge barn full of rabbits.  But Elijah still loved seeing each of them.

Poultry seem to be his favorite. He even learned to say "cock-a-doodle-doo" recently and it's the cutest thing in the world. 

I did let the boys ride a couple rides, mostly because I wanted to get a view of the area from the Ferris wheel.  Theo still talks about flying through the air on the banana ride, and I loved that I felt physically comfortable and confident enough to get Eli up and down a huge slide.  He loved it.

Their exhibit hall really seemed lacking.  The youth and adult exhibits were kind of squished back in the corner of a commercial exhibit building, and since I'm used to two huge multi-story buildings housing 4-H exhibits at the Indiana State Fair, I guess I just expected a lot more to see in that department.  (Side note:  I really need to find someone around here that can explain the 4-H system to my here, since Theo can sign up to be a clover bud soon.  I think they have like a state congress, maybe that's where their projects go?) But again, lots of interesting things to talk about with the boys.

Once we finally backtracked to the entrance, we found the livestock buildings/tents, as apparently we had passed them on the way in without realizing that's what was there.  The open shows happened first, but we came down when the youth 4-H shows were starting.  The sheep/goat building was about on par with Indiana's size, and probably the horses as well.  But the biggest difference was the swine exhibit:  Indiana exhibits over 2000 pigs, while Virginia had maybe a hundred.  And the department that I know the most about, the beef one, was so different.  First, the only breeds pulled out into their own categories were Angus, Braunvieh (never heard of before), Hereford, Shorthorn, and Simmental.  All other breeds were shown together  Indiana exhibits 15 different breeds and they get to show in the coliseum (a building used for professional sports, and the Beatles even performed there once).  Here, the beef showed in a small arena in the corner of the barn (probably smaller than our county fair's, and with less seating for sure).  The heifer numbers were pretty high, but the main difference is that their steer show only had a dozen or so entries.  Their feeder calf program had more entries than their steer show, which was surprising, but reasonable since the fair is so late in the year.
The pig show arena, similar to the other ones.
 We only got to watch goat showmanship, but it was actually one of the best showmanship contests I have ever seen.  The judge placed the exhibits from top to bottom (instead of just picking the top two) and had very detailed reasons for his placements.  He did not rush things, but took as long as it took for contestants to win or lose the class by their actions with their animals.  I really respected the competition and the kids did a great job.  And loved hearing a lot of southern accents (up here, most people are not native to VA, so we don't hear it much).
He still says he's going to be a builder when he grows up, but lately he says he's going to be a farmer too.
Some other things we found at the fair included:  a farmers market, racing pigs, a rattlesnake show, magic show, masters of the chain saws, and some really good ice cream.

Overall, this fair will never really compare to the Indiana State Fair for me, but it had enough of the agricultural roots still in tact for us to thoroughly enjoy our time there.

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