By LINDA CHION KENNEY
With back-to-school, Halloween and Christmas gear and decorations lining retail shelves throughout Hillsborough County, it’s not too early to think about upcoming applications for the Hillsborough County Fair in November, which last year drew a reported 24,000 visitors.
In residence at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds in Dover, the 11-day fair kicks off Nov. 2 with competition showcases that run the gamut from arts and crafts to whip-cracking and wheelbarrow decorations. Most application deadlines, including those for family living, hay bale and barn-quilt decorations, are set for Oct. 1.
One notable exception is for the Harvest Queen Pageant, which annually awards crowns in the Queen Division (ages 16-19) and Junior Division (Ages 13-15). The application deadline for both contests is Aug. 30. Mandatory headshot and pageant meeting dates are set for Sept. 5 and 21, respectively. The hair and make-up social is set for Sept. 26. The pageant date is Oct. 7, at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall.
This year’s fair theme — “Rooted in Tradition” — aims to highlight the fair’s many years of livestock and youth exhibitors. The deadline is Oct. 1 for goat, dairy, sheep, rabbit and poultry shows. Also with an Oct. 1 deadline is the Justin Gill Memorial Beef Breed Show, named in memory of a Durant High School student who lost his life in a truck accident.
Meanwhile, the entry deadlines have passed for market shows and sales for steer, lamb, swine, turkeys and goats.
The application period has passed for the Harvest Awards, which are announced annually before the start of the first day of the fair, which this year is Nov. 2. Last year’s recipients were Helen Parke (Lifetime Achievement in Agriculture), Michelle Williamson (Outstanding Woman in Agriculture), Joshua Griffin (Outstanding Young Farmer), Sammy and Jeff Busciglio (Farm Family of the Year), and the Saint Vincent DePaul Faith and Grace Garden (Outstanding Public and Community Service). Last year’s posthumous awards recognized Florida Strawberry Festival icon Al Berry, Lithia woodworker Vernon Blackadar, businessman Perry Buttram, and Bruce and Susan Harrell of Riverview.
The application period for concessions and vendors is ongoing, with the stipulation that applicants agree to stay open and available throughout the fair’s operating hours, which differ according to the day. Times at the low end are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Monday through Thursday, Nov. 6-9). At the high end, the hours are 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Saturdays, Nov. 4 and 11).
New this year to the fair is the Fair Art Puzzle Piece Project, open to youth ages 5 to 8 enrolled in Hillsborough County schools, including public, charter and homeschool settings. Judged by division (individual or group/class), all completed puzzle pieces will be on display at the fair.
The “Back to Your Roots” contest pays homage to gardening with the county fair. It’s described as “an educational program designed to educate about the importance of agriculture” and “where food comes from and how it grows.” Open to any county school or class, grades K-12, the contest seeks garden entries raised in any type of carton or container that is portable, including recycled bins, wooden boxes or even a kid-sized swimming pool.
In like vein, the “Watch Us Grow” classroom garden project proves to be very popular and this year is limited to 5,000 bookmarks. Orders to receive a free bookmark kit via mail will be accepted through Oct. 1. The kit contains one bookmark and seed for each student and instructions for teachers for planting.
With most deadlines set for Oct. 1, one notable exception is the contest for whip-cracking. The pre-registration deadline is Nov. 1. Walk-up registration for the Nov. 8 contest is set for 6 to 6:30 p.m. Youth and adults will have 45 seconds to display their abilities with a whip that can be from 6- to 14-feet long. There is a Pee Wee competition as well.
Family Living contests include those for fine arts, arts and crafts, and visual photography as well as for needlework, handicrafts, sewing, cooking, innovative mechanics and more.
Overall, this is a sampling of contests and deadlines for the 2023 Hillsborough County Fair, with changes possible. For an updated review and to secure application forms and requirements, including entry fees if any, visit www.HillsboroughCountyFair.com/.
Information about cash prizes and complementary fair tickets will be listed as well, if applicable.
Fair dates are Nov. 2-12 at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds in Dover, at 215 Sydney Washer Road. Call 813-757-3247