DOVER — The Hillsborough County Fair is in a class of its own.
As board chairman Earl Lennard explains it, the annual event is a throwback to days gone by, when affairs of this nature were volunteer-driven and meant mainly to tout the impact of a community's agricultural significance and the talents of its future farmers.
"As Hillsborough County becomes more and more urbanized I think it's important to educate people on the importance of agriculture," said Lennard, who in addition to being raised on a farm in Riverview taught vocational agriculture along with other subjects prior to serving as superintendent of Hillsborough County public schools from 1996 to 2005.
With agriculture and education as its primary focus — topics that matter a great deal to Lennard — this year's fair is set to run Oct. 20-23 and Oct. 27-30 at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds, 215 Sydney Washer Road, north of State Road 60.
Attendees are invited to visit daily showmanship events featuring more than 200 youth of all ages presenting their farm animals — from baby chicks, rabbits and swine, to sheep and dairy and beef cows.
Betty Jo Tompkins, a Hillsborough County Fair board member and executive director of the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District, believes many of those kids might well be grooming themselves for careers as agriculturists.
"The fair is an absolutely terrific opportunity to see the young people display their talents in so many areas so they can compete at higher levels as they grow older," she said. "What a lot of people don't realize is that if we do not increase food production in the next 40 years, we're not going to be able to sustain our food supply."
Fairgoers also will have an opportunity to view an array of blue-ribbon art, crafts and cooking projects created by residents throughout the county.
There will be a baby pageant, a talent show, a hay bale decorating contest, a circus and a rodeo, plus special attractions that include but aren't limited to Robinson's pig races, bulls and barrels, truck and tractor pulls, and a demolition derby.
"We also have a historical area we're developing called cowboy camp where we'll be making things like charcoal and cane syrup and using old equipment," said fair manager Tom Umiker.
"We focus on just about anything people want to get involved in and that folks really enjoy," added Umiker, noting that there is also a midway with rides and fair foods as well as plenty of space and free parking to accommodate a total of close to 25,000 visitors projected to turn out.
New this year is a plant auction at 11 a.m. Oct. 22, presented by the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District in cooperation with local nurserymen. In conjunction with that, local 4-H and Rotary club volunteers will be selling $10 pork barbecue dinners, and for those who present their fair admission ticket stubs, the cost is just $3.
Soil and Water representatives also will host a Haystack Dinner from 1 to 7 p.m. Oct. 30. The menu is tacos and the event will include a haystack where children can win prizes.
Proceeds from the plant sales and the dinners will help fund youth programs, a scholarship for a college-bound student interested in pursuing a career in the agriculture industry, and the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge, a Soil and Water Conservation District initiative.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]