Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Business

Pasco County Fair shows what Hernando is missing

Let's start with the centerpiece of any county fair, the livestock arena.

Coming from Hernando County, the first thing I noticed was that one entire wall was covered with miniature billboards from feed stores, tractor supply outfits, a real estate office and a stucco contractor.

This helps raise the roughly $50,000 in sponsorship money the Pasco County Fair receives for its livestock exhibits every year, said Dicky Brown, the fair association's vice president and my guide on a tour of the fairgrounds in Dade City last week.

The money, in turn, contributes to the deluxe surroundings: new ceiling fans with slowly rotating, 18-foot-long blades to cool the animals, the neat rows of pens, the layer of wood shavings as soft to walk on as fresh, ankle-deep snow.

You could see that with all this support, the schools' agricultural crowd could become the "in" crowd, which it seems to be; about 600 students entered livestock or plants this year.

But they don't do it just because a lot of their friends do. The average price paid for a steer at Thursday's auction was $3.46 per pound, and the 68 animals sold for a total of $255,000. Overall, buyers spent about $500,000, which wouldn't happen without the coordinated efforts of fair folks and youth farming groups.

"We have a very good relationship with 4-H," Brown said of the association.

With the schools, too, apparently. Displays of students' crafts and artwork filled a hall the size of an old-fashioned country school and designed to look like one, painted red and topped with a small bell tower.

"I think every elementary school kid in Pasco County did a painting for the fair," Brown said.

The competitive urge that was the historical inspiration for fairs — the right to claim "mine is better than yours," Brown said — doesn't just bring out the best in the kids. The award-winning quilts were so beautiful and intricate they deserved more than ribbons. They deserve to be in museums.

They were arranged in yet another hall, this one devoted to domestic arts, with entries such as the award-winning jams and jellies displayed in mock-ups of old-time kitchens and sitting rooms, the whole place infused with the odor of constantly baking cookies.

"It makes the room smell like Granny's house," said volunteer and champion preserves maker Doti Holmes.

There was more to see and do, of course. Tons of it. A midway packed with rides and games, another hall for displays of Pasco's communities and community organizations, entertainment venues that were full throughout the fair, which ended on Sunday and had started a week before with a parade through Dade City. The parade, by the way, featured Florida's commissioner of agriculture, Adam Putnam.

Taking all this in, you can't help but think about all the enrichment, the challenges, the fun that Hernando County is missing out on.

Yes, Pasco is bigger and richer than Hernando. But that's not all this is about, not all that fairs show about a community.

In Pasco, you see a spirit of cooperation and a fair association that has the trust of all the businesses and organizations needed to put on a good fair. You see commitment to young people. You see pride.

You see an event that puts Hernando's fair to shame.

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