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Friday, 17 July 2015 10:53

Rock County 4-H Fair thrives on family fun

Written by  Lynn Greene
The midway is just one area for families to enjoy at the Rock County 4-H Fair. This year’s fair opens Tuesday, July 28, in Janesville and features six days of exhibits, music, rides, food and more. The midway is just one area for families to enjoy at the Rock County 4-H Fair. This year’s fair opens Tuesday, July 28, in Janesville and features six days of exhibits, music, rides, food and more. File photo

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- One of the great things about summer is the county fair. For six days, you can enjoy a slice of rural life right inside the city limits of Janesville.

This year’s Rock County 4-H Fair is set for July 28 through Aug. 2 at the Rock County Fairgrounds. The theme is “Families Make the Fair Go Round.”

Family can be defined in different ways --parents and children; all descendants of a common ancestor; a group of people with common goals --but no matter how you define it, families do make the fair go ’round.

(Rock County Fair 2015 preview HERE)

This year, for example, the fair board contacted one of the nonprofits in its ag family, the Ag Business Council of Rock County, to garner its support for an expanded family education area. The Ag Adventure Tent will be set up adjacent to the council’s tent and will offer interactive activities for the younger fairgoers.

Fair Secretary Mary Check said they got the idea during a seminar at the Wisconsin Association of Fairs annual convention. Because the council already had a lot of exhibits built into its tent, joining forces to create something new made sense.

Fair board member Maureen Fox Rusch worked with Jessica Sarbacker of the council to come up with ideas that would enhance the fair experience for the younger set.

“Actually, we’ll have more seating here too because it’s an area that attracts a lot of families already,”Rusch said.

The council’s display is famous for its swimming and diving ducks, the hatchouts of pheasants from eggs and the corn box -- a variation of the backyard sandbox, except this one is filled with corn.

Sarbacker has fond memories of growing up and showing her projects at the fair. Eventually she hopes her young children will do the same, although they’re too young right now to be in 4-H or FFA.

“When we moved back to the Milton area, I wanted to get involved in the ag community,” she said of her decision to volunteer with the council. Sarbacker and her husband work her family’s farm and raise Holstein cattle.

The idea for the Ag Adventure Tent is to give youngsters a taste of the farming life, or at least an appreciation for what the farmer does.

“We’ll have activities for them to do, like farmer for a day,” said Kelli Cameron, secretary of the Ag Business Council of Rock County. “They’ll be able to pick an apple off a tree, dig potatoes, gather eggs, things like that.” 

Cameron grew up involved in the fair. She was the fair queen in 1998 and participated in 4-H and FFA. Now, her children, ages 11, 13 and 16, are showing in the fair.

People who grew up on farms are eager to have their children and grandchildren carry on the family’s farming traditions.

“It’s important for the kids to know,” said Dorothy Abelm of Orfordville, a grandmother of nine. “It’s not like when I was growing up and most everybody I knew lived on a farm. Now most everybody lives in town.”

Abelm said her grandchildren think she’s just telling them stories when she tells them how they used to raise all their own vegetables and how they’d milk the cows by hand and butcher their own chickens.

“If you didn’t know how to do all those things back then, you didn’t eat so good,” she said. “The kids are the future of farming, so we have to get them started. It’s really the family farm that will turn things around, not these big corporations that ship their stuff here, there and everywhere.”

Although her family doesn’t farm in the area, Abelm said she hopes a few of her grandchildren will be involved in farming in some way.

Check said the fair is invested in making the Ag Adventure Tent something to be remembered.

“There will be different activities each day for the kids to do and educational displays,” Check said.

The nearby Walworth County Fair has its own version of the Ag Adventure Tent. It’s gotten bigger every year and is a popular stop for children and families.

“We’ve always admired what they’ve done,” Rusch said.

The Ag Adventure Tent will be staffed by members of the        4-Hand FFAclubs. That will give the older club members an opportunity to work with the younger members and pass on what they’ve already learned.

Country music featured

Ryan George, who serves on the fair entertainment committee, said the band Florida Georgia Line broke all fair attendance records when it played in Janesville a couple of years ago.

If members of the entertainment committee book the right groups and the acts draw a big crowd, it can make the whole fair a success. For that reason, booking the entertainment for the fair is a year-round endeavor. Making it all family friendly is part of the equation.

George grew up going to the fair, so he takes his job seriously --after all he’s helping to make memories for the next generation.

“Country music has always been a good draw and usually they’re pretty good for families to sit and listen,” George said.

This year’s headliners include country singer Cole Swindell on Wednesday, July 29. Swindell comes straight from the Academy of Country Music 50th annual awards ceremony, where he took home the ACMaward for new artist of the year. 

The tried and true favorite country duo Montgomery Gentry plays Thursday, July 30.

Tyler Farr might be considered a bit edgier for a country artist, but that’s because you’ll find more raucous rock mixed in. He headlines the grandstand on Saturday, Aug. 1.

Rounding out the entertainment list is Dan + Shay, ACM vocal duo of the year nominee, whose song “Nothin’ Like You” hit the top of the charts.

Some of these headliners require an additional ticket -- George said it’s been a good way to make the fair break even and people don’t mind paying for good performers.

That said, this year you can see and hear Dan + Shay for the cost of your general admission fair ticket only. It might be the last time you can catch them at that family friendly price.

“I think we did pretty good this year again,”George said.

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