By Pat van den Beemt
5:15 PM EDT, July 15, 2013
The Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture is broadening its horizons when it hosts a pair of events, one old and one new, at its Shawan Road site Aug 10.
Considering the array of interests — beef cattle, goats, worms, vegetable gardens, rabbit-jumping contest, heirloom tomato tasting and scavenger hunt — involved, one might even describe the festival as eclectic.
Everything listed, and a whole lot more, can be found at the Ag Center that day after both groups decided to hold their events on the same day in hopes of attracting more visitors.
The day features the 68th Hereford Junior Farm Fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the east side of the Ag Center buildings. And the first-ever Baltimore County Master Gardeners' Garden Fest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. is on the west side of the complex.
All events are free and family-friendly.
Hereford Junior Farm Fair
Maintaining a tradition that began in 1945 on the grounds of Sparks High School, the Hereford Junior Farm Fair is open to Baltimore County residents under age 21, with no requirement to belong to a 4-H club.
The event moved to Hereford High School grounds in 1954 and then to Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center in 2010. This is its third year at the Ag Center.
Although the fair officially begins Aug. 10, there is a pet show on Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m. Since all indoor exhibits are due by then, the idea is to give kids delivering their exhibits something fun to do. Awards are given for categories, such as best dressed, prettiest, best performance. There is no pre-registration and the pet show is open to all.
The following morning will bring a procession of trucks, cars and trailers onto Shawan Road as families bring in their livestock for judging. Visitors can talk with animal owners as they spruce up everything from a 1,000-pound cow to a 2-pound rabbit in hopes of earning a blue ribbon.
"It's amazing the pride you'll see as kids get their animals ready and then exhibit them," said Jo-Ann Chason, the fair's secretary and dairy cattle judge chairperson. "This fair is all about trying to promote agriculture to the public."
Like many adults who volunteer at the Fair, Chason participated in it as a child. She started showing her family's Guernsey dairy cows when she was just 8.
And while the fair has the standard line-up of animals — swine, goats, sheep, cattle, rabbits and guinea pigs — to be judged, organizers have started adding something new each year.
Alpacas and poultry have recently joined the list and the first-ever rabbit-hopping competition will also be held.
That makes Katie Yoder, 9, a happy hare owner.
Her 1-year-old Holland Lop rabbit named Ginger has already competed at other hopping contests and has already been practicing for Hereford's.
"Some of my rabbits don't like to jump, but he really likes to," she said as she set up three sets of wooden jumps her father, Lee Yoder, made for her at their Glen Arm home.
During the competition, Katie will put Ginger in a harness and keep him on a leash. As Katie runs along outside the course, Ginger will hop over a series of wooden posts and then return again. His score is based on the time it takes to complete the course. Points will be deducted for any faults he makes by knocking rails off their posts or straying off-course.
"It's really a lot like horse-jumping," said Katie's mother, Kara. "When Ginger competed in Carroll County, people really got into it and were yelling and screaming for their rabbits."
All of this is good practice for Ginger, since he will compete at the National American Rabbit Breeders Association convention in Harrisburg, Pa., in October.
Katie, going into fourth-grade at Carroll Manor Elementary School, and her sister, Karli, 4, are each bringing five rabbits and one guinea pig to the Hereford Fair.
For complete Fair information, go to http://www.herefordjrfarmfair.com.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County Master Gardeners are anxious to show off the gardens they have carved out of a former field of barley at the Ag Center.
Master Gardener Heather Wight, of Parkton, has volunteered to dress up as a tomato and wander around the Hereford Junior Farm Fair to let people know that Garden Fest is next door.
Garden Fest runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and includes a scavenger hunt, a blind herb identification contest, heirloom tomato tasting, a worm bin demonstration and a sun-tea demonstration and tasting.
Children can make bracelets, pinwheels and butterfly fans at the crafts table while adults visit the "Ask a Master Gardener" table to pick the experts' brains.
"This is our first-ever open house," said Leslie Erickson, of Phoenix, past president of the gardeners. "Our goal is to let people know the gardens are here. They are in a county park that's open to the public, so people can stop by and visit anytime."
Cultivated gardens cover almost 2 acres and are protected by a 10-foot deer fence. Gardener Natalie Hamilton hand-painted mailboxes in front of the each garden containing fact sheets and a map of the entire site. Visitors are welcomed, but asked to leave their dogs at home.
The 80-foot by 80-foot "Grow it. Eat it" garden is filled with vegetables, blueberries, and fruit trees. Everything harvested from that garden is donated to Cockeysville Food Pantry and Creative Kids Community Centers, said Debbie McKearney, of Phoenix, in charge of that garden.
Master Gardeners sign up to plant, weed and water all gardens on a regular basis. Once the vegetables are ready, some 28 volunteers promise to show up every other day to harvest.
The "Bay-wise" demonstration garden teaches homeowners how to use the right plants in the right places to cut down on the amount of fertilizer and watering needed.
There is also an herb garden and a children's garden. Future plans call for a pollinator garden aimed at attracting bees.
The nonprofit group raises money for mulch and garden supplies by hosting an annual plant sale. Many gardeners also sign up to be on a Speakers' Bureau and donate their fees back to the group.
The Baltimore County Master Gardeners program began in 2007. Members used to meet at Oregon Ridge Nature Center before the Ag Center opened in 2010. The club currently has more than 150 volunteer members.
"Master Gardeners are go-getters. Many come to the organization after retiring from leadership roles in public and private industry. They are also passionate gardeners," said Katie Dott, Urban Horticultural Program Assistant with the University of Maryland Extension program.
"This Open House is the culmination of the hopes, dreams and hard work it took to create teaching gardens at the Agriculture Center."
Prospective Master Gardeners who are selected for the program attend about 50 hours of training. The classes meet one day a week for 10 weeks and include topics such as botany, plant propagation, native plants and soils.
After participants pass an open-book exam, they spend their first year giving 40 hours of volunteer service. After that, they volunteer at least 20 hours a year and complete 10 hours of continuing education classes. Applications for the January 2014 training classes will be accepted in September. For more details, go to http://www.bcmastergardeners.weebly.com
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