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Fair to keep agriculture events front and center

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Williamson County Fair

The baby pigs exhibit has drawn a lot of attention in the Children's Barnyard at past Fairs.

Fair organizers are forging ahead with plans to keep agriculture the star and focus of the Williamson County Fair and to provide great new agricultural experiences.

“We’re rockin’ and rollin’ this year doing what we can to follow COVID-19 guidance but wanting to give plenty of ag experiences,” said Matt Horseman, UT Extension Service director for Williamson County.

Virus precautions aren’t the only challenge the Fair Board faces. 

After 17 years of providing a fun, safe, family-friendly experience to more than a million visitors, the fair organizers face the unique challenge of space.

When it opened in 2001, the Williamson County Ag Expo Park was “out in the country,” surrounded by an expanse of farmland. Today that farmland has become subdivisions and businesses. Horseman said that with no possibility of expanding the footprint of the park, they have to be innovative.

That could mean a few changes. Some may be temporary, because of the virus, while others will be permanent. Some events may have a different presentation or be moved to a new location.

For instance, this year, Jason and Heather Ladd of Lucky Ladd Farms will temporarily take over the space Little 1s Farming occupied in the Children’s Barnyard. Baby pigs are still in the plan, but it may be a new experience, Horseman said.

“In the end, we want to connect the general public with agriculture in an active way.” Horseman said. “It may not be hands-on this year, but it will enhance the experience.”

Last year’s quarantine is credited with the increased interest in agriculture, he added. Cooperative Extension always plays a large role in ag education at the fair which was demonstrated by the increased calls for advice at the Extension office during the quarantine.

“You don’t have to have a farm to participate in many activities at the fair,” Horseman said. “All it takes is a pot on your porch. That’s how education in agriculture starts.”

For many people, putting a little garden in the yard or a row of pots on the porch or balcony and growing something was like therapy during that trying time.

“Before (the quarantine) many people didn’t have time to work in gardens,” Horseman said. “This community likes the (agriculture) experience and education they get at the fair. Our job is maintaining focus on an agriculture-based fair and offering that education experience."

The increase in participation in the annual 4-H plant sale may be proof that the agriculture seeds planted during the pandemic are continuing to grow.

Agriculture includes more than plants. Those interested in the livestock side of agriculture will also find new opportunities. One is a chance to “help judge” the various fair livestock shows.

“Instead of just walking by the (livestock) show (fairgoers) will be able to participate,” Horseman said.

After making their choices, they can compare them with the judges’ decisions and learn from the comments judges make when announcing the winners.

“Hopefully this will encourage people to want to know more,” Horseman added. “This a great opportunity to connect with locally sourced meat. It’s easy to rest on successes of the past, but we want to use this as a step to future opportunities and to be innovative.”

The fair will run Aug. 6-14. For several years fair tickets and midway tickets have been available online at WilliamsonCountyFair.org. This year, there will be more emphasis on advance ticket sales online for fair entry and the midway. Online purchases will provide visitors daily savings on midway tickets.

Check the website for updates to the schedule of events and other fun fair happenings.

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