By LINDA CHION KENNEY
As summer heat continues to sizzle, it’s time to plan ahead for cool developments upcoming at the Hillsborough County Fair in November, now in its 26th year and with “Homegrown Fun” as its designated theme.
Applications for youth livestock, family life and entertainment shows, pageants and competitions are now being accepted as anticipation grows for the grand opening of a livestock building to replace the two tents used previously.
With $960,000 in funding from the Florida Department of Agriculture, fair officials say the 18,000-square-foot building is scheduled for completion by Sept. 1. The building is on tap to double in size with future funding now in the works, according to fair manager Suzanne Holcomb.
After a dry run last year, the fair returns again with programming for a full 11-day run, Nov. 3 to 13, with a special event honoring Riverview resident Earl Lennard set for Oct. 13, at which time the “Little Red Schoolhouse” at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds is set to be named in his memory. The dedication coincides with the annual dinner for retired Hillsborough County agricultural education teachers.
Lennard, who was a member of the group, died after a long illness in 2019. He entered the Hillsborough County school district as a first-grader at Palm River Elementary and left the school system upon his retirement in 2005, as superintendent of schools. As a school district official, he was instrumental in getting the schoolhouse situated at the fairgrounds.
“Dr. Lennard always was an inspiration for agricultural education,” said Holcomb, who as a kid showed livestock at the fair, as a parent supported her children showing livestock at the fair and as a volunteer and part-time fair employee worked alongside Lennard and many others in bringing the fair to life. “Dr. Lennard was always there to promote the fair, and for him, it was always about the kids and about the opportunities youth had to be involved in the fair.”
Beyond livestock shows and other youth- and family-oriented programming, the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District returns with its own roster of events, including conservation exhibits; youth horticulture, poster and rain-barrel decorating contests; and the sixth annual Great Plant Auction supported by area nurserymen in support of youth programming. For the first time this year, HSWCD will have its own tent, one of the two previously used for livestock shows.
“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity in such a grand way to showcase so many aspects of conservation and to promote youth involvement and engagement,” said HSWCD Executive Director Betty Jo Tompkins, who serves also as a member of the fair executive board. “We also are truly grateful to have the support of so many in the nursery community who donate top plants for people to purchase at reasonable prices, and all in support of youth programming and ag scholarships for worthy students.”
As fair manager, Holcomb said she is committed to “growing the fair while still keeping hold of the traditions and roots that made us what we are today.”
“The biggest thing is that because we are a traditional county fair, people can come out and have a safe, family evening or day full of activities,” Holcomb said. “We have something for all ages, including rides, fair food and entertainment on the community stage.”
Toward that end, youth and adults can sign up now for family life competitions that include arts and crafts, photography and fine arts, as well as youth speech, pumpkin-carving and pie-eating contests. On the community stage, opportunities include the Harvest Queen Pageant, Children’s Pageant, Baby Parade and first-ever Mullet Pageant, along with Gospel Jam and Harvest Idol competitions.
Also new to the fair is an agricultural education area, where people can “come to see the animals, talk to our youth exhibitors and learn more about why agriculture is important in their community,” Holcomb said. “We now are five generations removed from agriculture and farming being the driving forces of county life. The fair allows us to come together to recognize that history and to learn more about technological advances and innovations in the field today.”
For more about the Hillsborough County Fair, and for applications to sign up for various pageants, contests and competitions, visit www.HillsboroughCountyFair.com or call 813-737-3247.