“Best” is such a subjective adjective.
Nonetheless, it conveys a superlative exceeding good and better.
By all accounts, this year’s Orange County Fair was both good and better (certainly the weather).
Orange County Extension Unit Coordinator Kaci Daniel was unreserved in her praise for the annual event.
“We’ve waited almost 20 years for weather this good,” she said Monday after the Wednesday-through-Saturday fair had wrapped up. “It was such a pleasant experience for the animals, the kids, the parents and the fairgoers. People came out in droves. It was awesome.
“It’s probably the best one we’ve ever had.”
High praise, for sure. But not undeserved.
After two years of weather-impacted fairs curtailed events and attendance, fair organizers were pleased with the culmination of good weather, good attendance, good entertainment and good events.
“I’d give it a solid ‘A’,” Orange County Fair Board President Willie Lohr said. “We probably had 5,000 people attending—and about 3,000 of those Saturday night. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from folks that this is the best fair in ‘however long.’”
“I know it’s the best one I’ve seen in at least the last six years since we’ve been at the new fairgrounds,” fair board vice president Tony Rogers added. “We were parking cars in places we’ve never even used before.
“Either it’s the weather or we’re doing something right,” he said.
Probably a bit of both.
The mood on the fairgrounds indeed was positive. Neither animals, exhibitors nor those in attendance were sweating the weather. Instead, they were finding their way to streamlined events that included local musical talent, a beefed-up tractor pull, Ultimate Championship Wrestling, 4-H livestock shows, challenge events, a carnival menagerie, and the wildly popular demolition derby to cap off the fair on a delightfully comfortable Saturday night—the second official day of summer.
“Wednesday is always a bit of a slow start,” Rogers said of the event’s opening, “but we had pretty good numbers. Thursday showed an increase and Friday night, the wrestling tent was full. We had a good night.”
Then, there was Saturday, when it appeared nearly every truck in Orange County was parked hither and yon on the 100-acre fairgrounds.
“They told me it was a good fair,” Rogers joked. “I didn’t get to see much of it. I spent most of it parking cars.”
From a 4-H perspective, Daniel was delighted.
Prices for the annual 4-H auction were strong and the quality of animals was great, she said. A number of 4-H alumni, coupled with Gibson’s Auction and Farm Bureau staff, helped the auction gross $134,000, as members and clubs sold 74 animals and 10 club items.
Tyler Atkins’ steer sold for $5.10 a pound, bringing in nearly $8,000 as the top grossing item, Daniel reported.
Averages were “way” up.
Overall, steers sold at the auction averaged $3.05 per pound, compared to a market average of $1. The top-grossing lamb sold for $11 a pound, with the average being $8.28 and the market average $1.50. The top-grossing goat brought $10.75 per pound ($9.23 average) compared to a $1.50 per pound market average. The average market hog price is 40 cents per pound, while 4-H hogs auctioned Saturday evening averaged $6.77 per pound with a top-grossing hog fetching $8.75 per pound.
“This just shows how tremendous the support for our kids is in Orange and the surrounding counties,” Daniel said.
And it wasn’t just 4-H animals that brought in the big bucks. The dairy club’s best gallon of milk sold for $1,200 a the auction and the livestock club auctioned off a catered dinner for 20 for $3,000. A bench made out of stock tanks offered by the True Blue Cloverbuds sold for $950.
While averages were up, Michelle Smith and Cynthia Smith who manage the exhibit “tent” (building) waved their hands over tables stocked with baked and canned goods, arts and crafts, woven and knitted materials and declared participation also had increased. They were pleased with the volume of entries—even if the fair is now too early to accommodate perfectly ripe tomatoes in the garden produce contest. No matter. Dozens of flower specimens, jars of honey, jams, pickles, vinegar and the most glorious looking eggs all illustrated Orange County’s agricultural heritage. And, then, just for fun, cleverly decorated sweet potatoes featuring googly eyes and pipe cleaner ears and mustaches adorned paper plates nearby to blend agriculture and “art.” It’s all good.
Across the fairgrounds—and Lohr said the event is specifically organized to both compartmentalize and emphasize different events and functions—the various transportation-related events were equally successful, if not more so. The horse show, drafthorse and mule contests entertained spectators at the show ring, while the nearby entertainment tent provided an Elvis tribute artist and later banjos and bluegrass that had even the horses bobbing their heads along with Madison County’s Pickin’ Daisies.
Meanwhile, down the hill, the lawnmower and antique tractor pulls drew stout competition and large crowds, culminating in Saturday night’s derby—where participants and supporters came from throughout the mid-Atlantic, according to Lohr.
Part of the appeal, he said, is unlike other fairs, one price offers admittance to all the “featured” events. Other county fairs charge an entry fee and then tack on additional costs for things like the tractor pull, demolition derby, concerts or special shows.
At the Orange County Fair, only the carnival rides cost extra and those are a good draw to get more young people on-site and hopefully learn about Orange County’s agricultural heritage, Lohr said.
By Sunday morning, the fairgrounds are a mess, but even that wasn’t as bad as in years past, Daniel noted. “I think by 9 a.m. we had all the animal pens down. Normally, that’s just when we’re getting started,” she said. “Everyone really just pitched in.”
Meanwhile, the fair board is already looking ahead to next year. Lohr said the organization will look to lock up those events, acts and performers who were most popular, while maybe tweaking the schedule a bit as they learn from this year’s event.
Rogers had a simple summary of what worked and what he thinks will serve the fair well in the near-future: “More things with motors! Things that are loud and fast seemed to really draw folks out,” he said, before acknowledging the illusionist and magician acts seemed to draw a pretty good crowd at each of their shows as well.
“We’re always looking to improve and add where it makes sense,” Lohr said. “We listen to the feedback and try to work on getting things people want to do and see.”
Best? Sounds close to it. Definitely good and better.