The 27th annual Harford County Farm Fair opened Thursday with all things 4-H, including animal, produce and other exhibitions, children's activities, games, food, carnival rides, even a mechanical bull.
The first day of the four-day 2014 fair came with sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s, which many are calling a relief given the history of oppressive heat that has often been visited on the fair. The temperatures are welcome, but the rest of the forecast for rain and thunderstorms Friday, Saturday and Sunday is not.
The fair is on the grounds of the Harford County Equestrian Center just north of Bel Air off of North Tollgate Road.
The annual Miss Harford County Farm Bureau contest was scheduled for Thursday evening.
The fun will continue Friday and through the weekend with pig races, a truck and tractor pull Friday evening, eating contests, live music and a rodeo Sunday.
Thursday at the mechanical bull, near the food section of the fair, started slowly.
Ben Tharpe, 13, of Churchville, tried to keep his balance as the operator sped the ride up, but he eventually fell onto an inflatable mat.
Ben and his cousins, Ryan Mandl, 13, of Aberdeen, and Michael Mandl, 11, of Cecil County, were excited about their experience on the mechanical bull.
"The bull ride was very fun," Ryan said. "It was challenging at first because it's very off balance."
He added: "It's very fun; it's something that a lot of kids will like, and they need to keep it for the next couple years."
The boys and their relatives attend the fair each year – Ryan and his sister Rebecca, 11, were showing pigs with the Harford County 4-H.
"Ever since we started, the fair's been getting better and better each year," said Ryan, who is showing for his third year.
The boys visited the mechanical bull with Peggy Sullivan, of Bel Air, grandmother of Ryan and aunt of Ben, Dana Tharpe, Ben's stepmother, and Steve Bingham, Michael and Ryan's step-grandfather.
The family recently attended the Cecil County Fair, which ended last week.
"It was really popular at the Cecil fair, especially on rodeo night," Dana Tharpe said.
A rodeo will be part of this year's Harford fair, and it is scheduled for Sunday.
She noted the Cecil County Fair has "something for everybody," with carnival rides and agricultural exhibitions, which she said was also the case for the Harford County fair.
Tharpe said people who visit for the rides also have an opportunity to see the animal and produce exhibitions.
"If they come for the rides, they can also have the opportunity to be more educated about where their food comes from, and maybe it'll get more people interested in 4-H," said Tharpe, who grew up showing animals with the Cecil 4-H and trained Ryan and his sister in showing for Harford County.
The animals were the main attraction when the Harford fair opened Thursday morning. Fairgoers could check out the 4-H Exhibits Building and the Home Arts and Farm & Garden Buildings, as well as 4-H horse, swine and pet shows.
Thursday was also Senior Day, and fairgoers could visit with a slew of candidates for local and state offices in this year's election.
"The Harford fair is fun, and I like the pig shows," Michael said.
Additional animals such as cattle, sheep and goats were also available for fairgoers to see. Signs were posted at each animal barn encouraging staff and visitors to wash their hands after handling animals and before eating.
Hand washing stations were scattered throughout the fairgrounds.
A new aspect of the animal exhibitions this year is Harford County's bred and owned program, in which county agricultural staff are working with youth who show at the fair to breed animals born on their family farms and show them in the fair, rather than baby animals that have been purchased.
"It's just an opportunity for the county to support the local farm community and encourage the children to make their own projects," John Sullivan III, deputy chief of staff for agricultural affairs, said while at the fair's beef cattle barn.
Sullivan said 10 of the 45 cows in the beef barn were part of the bred and owned program. They will compete in their own bred and owned division, and in the general animal divisions.
Sheep raised through the bred and owned program are also on hand at the fair, Sullivan said.
Paige and Brooke Rickey brought seven male and female cows to the fair, which they had raised through the program.
The cows were born in early 2013 on their family farm in Whiteford.
You just have a special bond with them, since they're yours and you raised them," Brooke, 14, explained. "When you take them into the ring, it's your project you're showing."
Paige, 18, noted the program comes with the challenge of raising the animals that are born on the farm, instead of picking out the ideal animal when purchasing.
"You get what you get," she said.
Joe and Nancy Karwatka of Bel Air came with their granddaughter Anabel Barcena, age 5, of Abingdon.
"I think it's beautiful and fun," Anabel said.
Joe and Nancy were making their first visit to the farm fair.
"I think it's just great for the kids," Nancy said.
Anabel said she enjoyed petting the farm animals and reptiles on display at a Wildlife Adventures exhibition in the children's area.
"The volunteers are so thoughtful and so kind to the children around the animals," Joe said.
Visit http://www.farmfair.org/, or call 410-838-8663 for more information. The fair is open Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.