Of course, you’ll have to shell out a bit more cash if you want to spin the Wheel of Fortune and win a giant stuffed animal, or to consume lots of junky fair food; but that still adds up to a day’s worth of fun that remains affordable to most, even in these trying times. For teens, who tend to show up at county fairs in droves in the evenings, there’s no extra charge for the opportunity to ogle and flirt with one another – a mating ritual nearly as old as America itself.
About that junky fair food: Lots of folks look forward to their annual opportunity to consume stuff that they wouldn’t dream of eating the rest of the year – such as cotton candy, the ultimate empty calorie – figuring that they’ll walk it all off while petting the almost-unbearably-cute llamas, coveting the giant model railroad layout, gazing in awe at the scale-tipping Hubbard squashes and cheering on their favorite antique contraption in the tractor pull. The 4-H Snack Bar offers a great deal consisting of an all-beef hot dog, fresh local corn-on-the-cob, dessert and a drink for just $5. And this author personally always looks forward to the unbelievably thick, ice-creamy milkshakes (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and flavor-of-the-day) churned out from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. by Teen Council members at the 4-H Milkshake Booth. I know that they’ll be worth the long bike ride that it’ll take to burn them off – plus the price helps raise funds for 4-H youth programs.
But there’s something different in the wind this year at the 4H Club and its host organization, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County (CCEUC): They’d really prefer that you ate healthy stuff instead – even at the County Fair that is by far their biggest annual event. Blame it on Michelle Obama if you want: Her anti-obesity campaign has inspired a nationwide trend, and CCEUC recently got a whopping big four-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities program to promote good nutrition and physical activity among youth. So it should come as no surprise that the Fair’s PR materials say, “Other healthy snacks like fresh fruit and veggies will also be available at great prices.” In that vein, don’t miss the food products vendor tent; it’s an excellent place to load up on all sorts of healthful, low-calorie taste-enhancers for your kitchen, like marinades and salsas and pickled things – in most cases locally made.
That aforementioned big grant launched an exciting new project for CCEUC, but in other respects it has been a very tough year for the organization, with Ulster County drastically cutting its usual annual support. Folks doing great work in our communities have had their jobs eliminated or hours cut, and some 4-H programs have been discontinued or scaled back. The agency needs all the help that it can get, so by all means, get out to the Fair and buy a little something from these hardworking young citizens. The Jane W. Barley Youth Building, located at the center of the Fairgrounds, will showcase projects that 4-H members have been working on this year. And a 4-H Baked Food Sale will be held on Tuesday from 4 to 9 p.m. and Wednesday from 10 a.m. until they’re all gone; proceeds will benefit the 4-H Family and Consumer Science Program.
To make matters even sadder, a longtime 4-Her from Accord who raised prizewinning turkeys, Erica Bell, died last month at age 17 after a three-year battle with cancer. This year’s Fair is being dedicated to her memory. On Wednesday, August 4 at 8 p.m., CCEUC’s 4-H Youth Development Program will host a candlelight vigil next to the 4-H Show Tent in honor of Erica and her many successes in 4-H. On Saturday, August 7 at 7:30 p.m., Erica’s family will be attending the 4-H Livestock Auction, which will take place in the 4-H Goat & Sheep Ring on the Fairgrounds. Erica’s farm-fresh birds will be on exhibit and sold to the highest bidders during the event, along with several other animal species raised by 4-Hers. All money raised from the sale of Erica’s birds will be donated to the Bell family.
The County Fair website has all the inside skinny on what’s happening where and when, but here’s some basic logistical info: The Fair kicks off Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., with a special entry fee of $40 per carload. The rest of the week, the gates, buildings and midway open at 10 a.m. daily; the gates close at 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, at midnight Friday and Saturday and at 8 p.m. on Sunday, closing night. Day campers, by prearrangement and if properly herded by their counselors, get in for $10 each Wednesday through Friday. Thursday is Senior Day, with Golden Agers getting in free between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is $15 per day at all other times, with kids age 4 and under admitted free.
Live music shows at no extra charge are of course a big draw at the County Fair, and this year’s lineup should be no exception. Favorite local oldies cover band Hot Rod performs on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.; Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers hit the high harmonies at 8 p.m. on Wednesday; up-and-coming young country star Bucky Covington sets hearts aflutter at 8 p.m. on Thursday; progressive Nashville duo Cook & Belle play two shows on Friday, at 4 and 8 p.m.; Stealing Angels, an all-girl group that includes John Wayne’s granddaughter, Loretta Lynn’s granddaughter and a distant relative of Daniel Boone, takes the stage on Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m.; and Jay and the Americans, featuring three original members plus “Jay” Mach III, close things out at 3 and 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Visit the website at www.ulstercountyfair.com/page.asp?pageid=55 for schedules for livestock judging and auctions, horsemanship and other competitions, karate, canine obedience and chainsaw carving demonstrations, pig races and all the other usual County Fair foofaraw. Along with CCEUC, the Fair is sponsored by the Ulster County Agricultural Society. The Ulster County Fairgrounds are located at 249 Libertyville Road, on the west bank of the Wallkill River just south of New Paltz. For more information about Cornell Cooperative Extension’s community programs and events, including the Ulster County 4-H Club, call (845) 340-3990 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (845) 340-3990 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or visit them online at www.cceulster.org.