Arts and crafts are only part of the fun at the Manatee County Fair
By CARL MARIO NUDI
The theme for the 2017 Manatee County Fair will be “Fair Fun 101,” and fun definitely will be the lesson the crowds flooding through the gates from Jan. 12 through Jan. 22, will experience.
Fair manager Daniel West said he and his staff have been working since late summer to provide visitors with 11 days of entertainment, food, midway rides, amusements and much more.
“We will try to top last year’s 100th year celebration,” West said. “But last year we had good attendance and great weather.
“This year we have a great lineup of entertainers and depending on if the weather cooperates, we should be able to do as well as last year,” he said.
Beyond the excitement of hearing headliner bluegrass and country legend Ricky Skaggs along with a full roster of other great entertainers — and the thrill of the midway rides — there will be the traditional activities usually surrounding county fairs.
When the fair started 101 years ago, Manatee County was very rural and agriculture was celebrated.
“Fairs were for showcasing agricultural and rural life,” West said. “And we still have a large amount of agricultural groups participating in the fair.”
A popular event at those fairs was the arts and crafts competition, which showcased the tradition of the handcrafts of a farming home.
This event still has its place at the fair, and many people love to show off their handiwork.
Entries of quilts, baskets, dolls, jewelry, woodwork and other homemade crafts will be received from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 7, and Sunday, Jan. 8, at the Chaires Building at the fairgrounds.
Fine art and photography entries also will be received during those hours and days.
Culinary arts and food entries will be received on Sunday, Jan. 8, only.
For the official rules visit the Manatee County Fair website at manateecountyfair.com.
Other events with roots in agriculture are the youth livestock and horticulture competitions.
Students in the agriculture program at Palmetto High School, across 17th Street West from the fairgrounds, have participated in the shows for many years.
The high school Future Farmers of America chapter will enter a steer and a swine in the livestock competition, and 11 other Palmetto High students will enter a swine in the competition as individuals, said Julie Tillett, the agriculture program teacher at PHS.
“Raising animals for the livestock competition at the fair teaches the students responsibility and integrity,” Tillett said. “They have to be here twice a day to feed and take care of the animals. They were here even on Christmas.”
Her students also entered the other animal husbandry shows, including poultry, rabbits, goats, horses and dairy cows.
“It’s a reality experience of what goes on in the agriculture industry,” Tillett said.
The students learn how to grow healthy animals that would provide nutritious meat for consumers.
“They know to start the swine out with a ‘grower’ feed to give it a good bone structure (to carry the heavy weight it will eventually attain as it grows),” Tillett said, “and then to feed it a ‘finisher’ feed to make sure the animal reaches the required backfat percentage.”
Through the raising of these animals the students have augmented lessons they studied in other classrooms, such as science, math and English.
“To figure out how much to feed their animals the students have to use algebra,” Tillett said. “If they write a letter to buyers for their animal, they use English and writing skills, and of course there’s a lot of science involved.”
Over the years the Palmetto High teacher continued to promote student participation in the fair.
“The fair and its competitions are such an awesome experience for the 4-H and FFA students,” Tillett said. “They get to show their parents and families their hard work and make them proud of their accomplishments.
“These students are walking in the footsteps of people from 100 years ago,” she said. “They are carrying on traditions and history for the benefit of all the people of Manatee County.”
For county youth who are not involved with agriculture, there are plenty of other competitions and shows they could enter.
There is the Manatee County Fair Queen Pageant at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 7, in the Palmetto High School Auditorium.
There are four age divisions: Mini Miss, 7 through 9; Little Miss, 10 through 12; Junior Miss, 13 through 16; and Miss, 17 through 24.
The winner of the Miss Division receives a $500 scholarship and will represent the Manatee County Fair at various events throughout the year.
The Cheerleading Competition always draws big, enthusiastic crowds.
Cheerleading squads from area high schools will give their best performances at 6 p.m., Monday, Jan. 16, at the Mosaic Arena.
And for those who enjoy eating, there are a multitude of food vendors selling hamburgers, hot dogs, cotton candy and other fair delicacies.
There are also several food-related competitions to enter. There is the Corn Dog Eating Contest, Pie Eating Contest, the 4-H BBQ Chicken Competition and the 10th Annual BBQ Competition.
“Area businesses and groups compete in the BBQ Competition, and the winner will have money donated to the charity of their choice,” West said.
West started working for the Manatee River Fair Association, the non-profit organization that produces the fair, in 2001 and became fair manager in 2003.
The association has a 40-member board of directors, and Jon Neuhauser is in the second of a 2-year term as president of the board.
West and Cindy Patterson, office manager, are the only two full-time employees of the Manatee River Fair Association.
For more information on the Manatee County Fair, or a schedule of events, visit its website at manateecountyfair.com, or download the Manatee County Fair app on your smart phone to get all the information you will need.