Harford County Farm Fair

A group of 4-H youngsters washes down their cows before showing them during a recent Harford County Farm Fair. This year the fair is adding a pre-fair carnival and other new features, some geared to raising money. (Aegis File Photo / July 20, 2011)

The pigs, horses and sheep will all still be there, but for residents looking for something a little different, this year's Harford County Farm Fair promises more than a few new events.

Have a special skill? You can try out for the new talent competition. Know your way around the kitchen? Consider the new culinary competition.

More importantly, do you like Ferris wheels or bumper cars? Then you can ride to your heart's content at the fair's new "pre-game" event, a carnival.

Organizers of the 25th annual fair, set for July 26 through 29 at the Harford County Equestrian Center in Bel Air, hope to keep things fresh for the event's quarter-century anniversary and raise money for the fair with a complete midway for all ages, plus a beer barn for the adults.

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Since the fair's revival in 1987, there has been no carnival/midway, nor have any alcoholic beverages been sold on the grounds. For much of its life since, the fair's volunteer board has relied on its a combination of donations, admission fees and vendor fees to cover expenses. In 2010, however, the county government contributed $30,000 to the fair, county officials saying at the time that the aid was needed to help out during the economic recession.

Aimee O'Neill, one of the fair's organizers, said while her group hopes to use the planned carnival for fundraising, it is ideologically important to keep the carnival separate from the rest of the fair.

"It's really philosophical. The fair has a specific atmosphere," she said, explaining the fair has traditionally been an agricultural, non-midway event – "what people can produce and show."

"We are really focusing on people coming out and showing who they are. That's the tradition of the fair," O'Neill said. "It's not that we are against carnivals, we just don't want to have it during the fair."

The pre-fair events will start July 17 through July 22, with the carnival happening on the Equestrian Center grounds from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and noon to 11 p.m. Saturday.

The beer barn will be open the same hours as the fair on Friday and Saturday only, in the main pavilion, and will include beer and wine by the glass, refreshments, music, raffles and other activities, all with no cover charge.

Also that weekend will be the return of the Farm Fair 5K Run, at 8 a.m. on Sunday, a course that winds itself through the Heavenly Waters park.

The fair itself will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, on July 26 through 29.

The new talent competition will be held on Friday and Saturday, starting at 7:30 p.m., in the main pavilion. Contestants are being sought in vocal, instrumental, dance, poetry, acting and other talent categories.

The Food & Wine Fiesta, with craft and farmer's market, is also coming back for the second year. This time, it will be Sunday afternoon, starting at 1 p.m. in the main pavilion. The Fiesta is open to Harford's producers of cheeses, ice cream, frozen meats, vegetables and fruits, and will include a wine tasting from local wine producers. Artists will also display handmade crafts.

The new culinary competition, called Seasonal Sensations, will take place during the Fiesta. Celebrity judges, yet to be announced, will award prizes in the categories of hot or cold appetizer, entree, dessert or beverage.

A few other fair events will be different as well.

Instead of the popular Dock Dogs competition, the fair will have the Flying Hounds Dog Show, which will be a presentation instead of a participatory event.

Also new will be the Puppenmeister Marionette Show, to fill out children's entertainment along with Candy & Cupcake.

Fireworks will return as well, on Thursday night this time.

Live music will highlight local bands throughout the days of the fair as well, O'Neill said.