9/28/2013 7:00 AM
By Rick Hemphill Maryland Correspondent
FREDERICK, Md. — The 151st Great Frederick Fair was awash in bright lights, nighttime entertainment and loud monster tractor noises. Thousands of visitors flowed along the midway paths of vendors and assorted whirly-gigs while eating an amazing assortment of foods.
The greatness of the fair lies in the quieter moments early each day, where the proud display of animal husbandry and personal achievement create more individual satisfaction than any brightly colored ride can provide.
“The purpose of the fair is an agricultural exhibition,” said Becky Brashear, general manager of the Great Frederick Fair. “This is a community spirited event focusing on agricultural education.”
The fair provides a good deal more than just a day away from school for students. There are many educational projects spread throughout the event, from animals and beekeeping to quilts and other things you may not readily think of.
The fair’s birthing center had pregnant farm animals waiting to show visitors one of farming’s everyday miracles, with educators and professionals taking the time to provide a variety of opportunities.
“I was asked to do a demonstration stomach dissection today to compare the differences between ruminants and horses and monogastrics,” said Dr. Brooke Ridinger, a veterinarian who weighs less than the bovine stomach she is eviscerating. “I grew up on a dairy farm. I always wanted to work with large animals so I am living my dream. One of the local teachers asked me to do the demonstration and we decided to go with the stomach dissection.
“This is one from a 900-pound steer, so it is much smaller than from a 1,200-pound dairy cow,” Ridinger said. “I support the 4-H and FFA. It helps kids learn a career path and keeps them in agriculture. I enjoy helping people develop their livestock, keep their animals healthy and watching the kids excel.”
Aspen Tressller, an assistant of Ridinger, came along to help.
“It’s a lot of fun and I’m learning as well as the other kids,” Aspen said with a smile. “The little ones are just like, ooo, it’s gross,’ but the older kids are really interested in how the stomachs work.”
A media course was run by Susan Summer, a seasonal employee with a journalism background.
“We bring in high school students from the county every day and they put together the stories and photographs for the events of each day for a newsletter,” Summer said. “We print it each night and it is out for the next day at all the stands here at the fair. It is a way to expand our ag education in the higher grades.”
“This is my first year of journalism and this is as close to real life as we can get,” said 17-year-old Olivia Galloway.
Wandering through the various ag buildings is a great way to see the best part of the fair and meet the people who live agriculture every day.
“My daughter, Whitney, is showing market steers and heifers here,” said Faye Wastler of Middletown, Md., who raises beef cattle with a neighbor, Nina Bidle. “It is difficult to get people to understand agriculture. Most people seem to think that the food just comes from the grocery store. These kids are very dedicated and put a lot of work into their steers. I love watching my daughter show. I think this is better than the state fair.”
“It is challenging to remember to bring everything we need: the hay, feed and the mucking tools,” said Reena Lentz, whose daughter showed at the fair and was busy cleaning the stall. “My daughter goes to Walkersville High School and it’s worth it for me to watch her show. People need to visit all the barns and read all the posters. I didn’t used to do that and I’ve have learned so much.”
Aislinn Latham showed sheep from her family’s farm in Thurmont, Md.
“I want to be a large animal vet someday,” she said, her blue eyes peeking out of her blonde hair. “Sheep are fun to show and easy to take care of. I think it helps people to understand what we do when we explain the wool and the sheep and how they are cared for.”
“Frederick County has the largest 4-H program in the state of Maryland,” said Becky Brashear, noting the large presence of young exhibitors. “We have very active ag teachers and 4-H educators.”
Jeanne Mueller runs the Food, Fiber and You Mobile Science Lab for the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation.
“This is one of three mobile science labs that visits schools across the state of Maryland for a week at a time,” Mueller explained. “The students from grades K through five can perform experiments and get their hands dirty and learn what agriculture is about. Over 4,000 students will go through here this week.”
“We brought our whole fifth-grade and first-grade classes,” said Collette Anders, a parent at Myersville Elementary School. “They love the animals and climbing on all the machinery. They have learned a lot already. We need to take advantage of the long agricultural history of Frederick County and learn how we are a vital part of Maryland agriculture. This is truly what the Frederick Fair is all about.”
Charlotte Button stood beside the pen containing her sow and eight or so piglets, while her 11-year-old daughter, Laura, showed another pig to a second place finish.
“He was not just as perky as the winner,” said Laura, running up with seemingly boundless energy. “I just love pigs and I’m not sure why. Pigs are smarter than dogs and I really like showing my pigs.”
For young and old alike, the fair is a place of new experiences and where memories are made.
“I entered the big vegetable collection,” said Tom Rice of Sunny Slope Farm in Libertytown. “We have a large garden and I have been coming here for a couple of years.”
“Our children entered the children’s display years ago and our son has the big display over there that won first prize,” chimed in his wife, Nellie. “People don’t know what they are missing. There are many school kids here today that don’t know what a farm is.”
“The memories of people who have passed away and the times we had here are what the fair is to me,” said Karen Offutt, who with her husband, Joe, brings race horses to the fair. “It is always his birthday at the fair so we always get a cake. But don’t rush the experience. This is a place to relax, bring out everybody you can. The fun is in the kids’ faces. When you see them smile you know you have done well.”
“This is a one-time event a year,” said Becky Bershear, reflecting on the fair’s future. “Our goal is to have a more year-round presence though social media and with school kids by doing projects throughout the year. You can’t stay status quo. Agriculture is still strong and fairs are still doing their part as an agriculture education piece.”
“There was a little girl who just walked by asking her mother to pet a pig,” said Karen Offutt. “The harried mother said, we don’t have time.’ I say, Lady stop. Smell the roses and pet the pig.’”