Palmetto For one day, the Manatee County Fair will be the only fair in Florida, the county’s fair manager boasts.
“We kick off the fairs in Florida for the New Year,” Daniel West said. “Once we start it, it is just a domino effect.”
The Manatee County Fair opens its gates on Thursday. By the time it closes on Jan. 22, fairs throughout the state will have ramped up.
Here, Manatee County is marking 101 years of fairs with the theme “Fair Fun 101,” which emphasizes agriculture education at the fairgrounds, 1303 17th St. W.
“It’s almost like we are offering a class here. Come out, have fun at the fair and learn some stuff while you’re here,” West said.
On either side of the 1st Manatee Bank Exhibit Building doors, new paintings of a Holstein cow and Yorkshire pig look over to the animals in the Mosaic Arena.
“We are just trying to do things better,” West said “You never stop. Our goal is to keep on showing the importance of agriculture in Manatee County and State of Florida.”
Entering the second century of fairs
Manatee County fair organizers are starting this second century of fairs on the heels of a huge success in 2016.
“It was fantastic. We had good attendance,” West said. “Here we are starting our second 100 years of fairs. I think everybody is really excited about that. Our fair has come a long way. It’s kind of like Manatee County’s homecoming to some degree.”
In Manatee County, it is a total county fair, West said.
“It’s a very unique and special fair,” he said. “We’re not the smallest fair in the state. We’re not the largest. We are kind of nestled right in the middle. But we have one of the largest youth livestock programs in the state of Florida for a single county, with over 600 exhibitors in the youth livestock.”
For Jon Neuhauser, the 2017 fair is a new beginning.
“We are starting with a new generation of Manatee County fairs,” the Manatee River Fair Association president said. “This is the first fair of a new century so equally, if not more, exciting because it’s the beginning.”
Neuhauser hopes this year’s fair will be even bigger and better than last.
“Year in and year out we put on a fantastic fair,” he said. “I think it’s going to be better.”
Fair organizers are hoping a mobile app, new this year for phones, will help attract more new visitors.
“We wanted to try to reach out more on social media to Lakewood Ranch and the island,” he said. “We are trying to hit those other areas.”
Importance of ag education
As the agriscience teacher at Lincoln Middle School for the last 14 years, Kimberley Lough knows the importance of teaching today’s youth about agriculture.
“The importance of ag education is that students, No. 1, know where their food comes from and, No. 2, it’s the largest employer in our nation,” she said.
For Lough’s students, the Manatee County Fair supplements what they are learning in class. But it also shows what a big community it is, Lough said.
“To put them in that arena or to go, they see not just Lincoln Middle but that there is a huge community involved in it,” she said. “It’s inspirational and gives them inspiration to do it the next year themselves.”
Manatee County is a bigger agriculture county than many people realize, said Peter Vole, one of the youth livestock fair directors.
“We are an ag county and it supports a lot of the county, and we support the youth in the county that want to get involved,” he said. “We have one of the largest livestock programs in the state.”
We kick off the fairs in Florida for the new year.
Daniel West, Manatee County Fair manager
With the fair beginning in a few days, Vole said he can’t wait to see the kids working with their animals.
“Some of them have been working with them for a year,” he said. “These kids form friendships for life. It’s really an unique and neat thing that they do. You get to see what they’ve accomplished and how much they’ve grown and how much responsibility they’ve assumed. It is a lot of responsibility for these kids, and they grow with these animals. They become an adult and a very responsible, caring adult.”
As a way to educate the public about the animals, a new exhibit this year features goats showing off their love of climbing.
“A lot of people don’t know they climb — and climb that high,” West said. “They just love to climb.”
Judy Anderson is supervising the new exhibit, and says it is wonderful.
“Probably they are not aware that goats are as agile and playful as they are — even a big mama,” she said.
For children, the fair and ag education is pretty eye-opening, said Caroline Hoffner, leader of Palmetto Pride 4H.
“It’s just a really great time for Manatee County to highlight wonderful agriculture products and all the people who support that industry,” she said. “It starts in Manatee County and then branches out.”
If you go: Manatee County Fair
Dates: Thursday, Jan. 12 through Sunday, Jan. 22
Hours: Hours vary, so check manteecountyfair.com or the Herald’s Manatee County Fair guide. Fair gates open at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Admission: $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, free for children under 5, $7 for seniors older than 55 and $5 for active military with ID
Location: 1303 17th St. W., Palmetto
Paid parking: Available on the south end of the fairgrounds at Church on the Rock on 14th Avenue West and at Palmetto High School after school hours