MCHENRY, Md. — In Garrett County, Md., agriculture is personal. The county fair is one of the truly agriculturally-based fairs in Maryland, and it is focused on giving the future a boost by celebrating the most important farm commodity: children.
Although they have the carnival rides and midway, it is the 4-H demonstrations, local food and animal shows that dominate the family-reunion atmosphere of the fair. There are many events including farm-to-table cooking demonstrations, a commercial barn for vendors, and at the Saturday 4-H sale, 123 pigs, 46 lambs, 110 goats and 79 steers will be offered.
The first Garrett County Fair was in 1917 and it was held each year until 1932, when it was forced to stop due to financial issues. The current fair has run continuously since restarting in 1957 and the commitment to the future has not wavered.
Many of the young men and women displaying their animals, vegetable products, canned goods, crafts, photographs, fiber arts and more are fourth- and fifth-generation 4-H members whose grandparents and great-grandparents learned the art of showmanship the same way.
“Our goal is to make sure people understand where their food comes from and what agriculture is all about,” said Debbie Friend, president of the all volunteer Garrett County Fair Board. “I enjoy giving back. I showed here as a child and showing animals put me through college.
“We have such a community of support that we want to give back to the kids,” Friend added. “We think we have the best fair in Maryland and we are the most agricultural fair in Maryland.”
About 50 percent of the fair’s attendees have some direct connection to agriculture, and these roots grow very deep in western Maryland.
“I just enjoy seeing everyone at the fair each year,” said Debbie Barnard, the livestock coordinator of the fair. “The fair is a tradition about family and people we see sometimes only once a year.
“My kids are all grown now so my grandchildren are here,” Barnard added. “My dad showed at the first fair and then I did and my children did, and now my grandchildren are showing dairy cows.”
“The fair is the high point for me,” said Jennifer Burow, who has a family dairy farm just outside of Grantsville, Md. “My daughter and son are showing and we brought a heifer that we lease to a friend.
“I enjoy the way the kids work with their animals and this is how they get to show that off,” she added. “I work hard and dairying is not that profitable, so this is an opportunity to do something special with the kids.”
Annika Maylor, 15, showed her 1,000 pound Angus steer, Mambo #5. She’s been in 4-H two years but lives in town.
“I wanted my daughter to have the experience,” said Annika’s mother, Adele Maylor. “So I asked a local farmer and he consented to let her raise a beef cow at his farm. It is wonderful, it teaches responsibility.”
“I really enjoy learning how much patience it takes to take care for an animal,” Annika said. “Each animal loves you back for caring for it. Showing it is the best and showing your friends this is what I have been doing. I like every part of it except getting here so early and leaving so late.”
Warren Wright, 15, has been showing at the fair since he was 8.
“I have been showing here about seven years,” Warren said. “I guess I enjoy showing my market steer most and hanging out with all my friends.”
4-H is not all about showing animals and neither is the Garrett County Fair. Robotics and alternative energy projects were presented this year.
“The majority of people feel that 4-H is about animals, but it is so much more,” said Arlene Lantz, a 4-H volunteer and robotics leader for the middle and high school robotic team. “There is robotics, GPS and much more science is available now.”
The Country Explorers, Red House and Bear Creek 4-H groups consisted of 10- and 11-year-olds who developed projects on renewable energy and programmable robots. The robots had to perform several tasks as part of their live presentation.
“Our 4-H high school robotic team actually designed this challenge for all of the 4-Hers across the state of Maryland,” Lantz said. “Two of the top teams from each county will compete next month at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, Md.”
“It is fairly hard,” said Jacob Houser, member of the Country Explorers 4-H, after his team’s presentation of guiding a robot through its routine. “You have to think about your design and your presentation. I like to show my animals and work with robots.”
“We were proving our robot to do these things,” said Baird Mead of the winning Bear Creek 4-H team. “I enjoyed programming the robot.”
“I programmed it,” interjected Logan Storch, 11, as everyone laughed. “We were nervous and uncomfortable about the presentation but it was not a bad as I thought. I have a heifer and it is really fun and I learned a lot about energy.”
Logan is the fifth generation of his family involved at the fair and for many here, it’s the type of progression that ties the fair and ag community together.
Janet Pichnell is the building superintendent of the 4-H building which housed all of the produce submissions, flowers, crafts and other small 4-H presentations.
“I enjoy helping the 4-H kids,” Janet said as she finished chatting with a friend. “My husband and I were 47 years in 4-H work and you see these kids starting out and now they are here with babies of their own.”
Truesdale Farm in Swanton, Md., had a lot of babies playing in the corn box at the children’s education station, where kids learned how to milk a cow or goat or just play in a safe place.
“We have 18 dairy cows here,” said Krista Dewitt. “Most of them are leased and the rest are being shown by my grandkids, nieces and nephews. Four generations have shown here. I showed beef, my husband Bob switched to dairy.”
“Being with family and friends, watching the children grow up and mature is something you cannot explain unless you have gone through it,” said Kate Steyer, whose family owns Holstein cows.
“The most fun I have at the fair is to see the smiles on the kids when they get their first blue ribbon,” Debbie Friend said. “I love to see that and then they receive their check for the sale of their animals. We are as far west in Maryland as you can get and I travel a lot, but I always come back.”
But like any fair, some things never change.
“I like the rides the best,” said Zachary Spurrier of the Country Explorers 4-H robotics group. “Especially the ones that make you dizzy.”