Five reasons why we enjoy the Manatee County Fair, which open Thursday night and continues through Jan. 26 at the fairgrounds in Palmetto.
Youngsters and critters
Enjoy future farmers and ranchers as they showcase their animals in livestock shows and 4-H exhibits. We recommend fair-goers encourage these kids in their endeavors -- for taking on big responsibilities by raising their animals. Today's youth are critical to our future food supply.
Agriculture stands second to tourism as Florida's leading industries with crops bringing in $6.8 billion and livestock sales worth $1.7 billion.
There are rabbit, goat, swine and poultry shows with steer, beef and horse spectacles in the main arena.
Pig races and a petting zoo
Only county fairs deliver vintage entertainment that's a throwback to the roots of these annual events. There's something called a Cow in My Truck Display, Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Shows and Ed & Geraldine Old-Time Music, all presented regularly throughout the fair. And don't overlook the Barnyard Reviews, which promise music, comedy and magic.
For the more adventurous, there's this: A Grizzly Experience! With an exclamation point, which serves as a warning. Participants will be able to get up close to a live Alaskan grizzly bear while learning about the beasts and what to do if you stumble across one in the wild.
Corn dogs and cotton candy
Plus, strawberry shortcake, elephant ears and funnel cakes among the sweet offerings; Cajun catfish, Texas barbecue and smoked mullet for the protein crowd; and pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers for those old favorites.
Calorie counting here is not recommended.
Where else would you find a whip popping contest, only the fair's second one? The baby pageant and cheerleading competition are longtime regulars.
This year, there's a new and unusual challenge: a hay bale decorating contest for 4-H and FFA clubs. Where else but the fair would you find this? The annual barbecue competition will bring tantalizing aromas.
Then there is the usual array of contests that attracts all ages of competitors vying for ribbons -- in arts and crafts as well as culinary arts to unveil the "best of the best" recipes in Manatee County.
Thrills of the Midway
The Tilt-A-Whirl debuted back in 1927 but remains a favorite since riders have some control over the spin of each individual cage, all attached to a rotating platform similar to a Ferris wheel but one that dishes out chaotic motion. Many baby boomers have been weaned off such vertigo-inducing rides, but not the younger crowd.
With the variety of roller coasters, giant wheels and drop rides, the Midway really bustles when teens and other thrill seekers descend on the fair once the sun sets and the colorful lights build atmosphere.
For parents and their younger children, the bumper cars provide plenty of laughs -- for them and spectators.