Harford ag community members ready to compete at state fair

Fresh off the Harford County Farm Fair, members of the county's agriculture community have been busy preparing for their next stop: the Maryland State Fair, which opened Friday and runs through Labor Day.

Around 10 Harford 4-H members are expected to exhibit at this year's state fair. The have spent most of August brushing their animals and getting them ready for the statewide event at the Timonium fairgrounds, at the same time many of them will head back to school.

One of those set to show off at the fair will be Melissa Grimmel, a regular at the Timonium event.

Grimmel, of Grimmel Farms in Jarrettsville, planned to take two heifers, a steer, two market pigs and three market lambs.

"We usually take a good bit there, considering it's the state fair," Grimmel said last week, adding not too many young people from Harford County exhibit animals, although that may be changing.

"It's only a few. I have been going there every year but more and more from Harford County have been going," she said.

"The quality is pretty good from Harford County for how small we are in participation, but all in all, we prepare all year for it," Grimmel said. "It turns out pretty well."

Grimmel said getting animals ready for the fair takes a lot of work and discipline.

"We wake up early morning, we wash them, they are on strict diets, you feed them at night, you have to exercise them, comb them down and get them ready for the showing," she explained. "It's just a lot of preparation so they are safe around the public."

The work that goes into the state fair is roughly similar to what it takes to compete in the county Farm Fair, she said, although the animals weigh more since the state fair is a month later.

The Timonium event "is a lot different than other places. We are representing Maryland as a state for every species and every time a judge comes in, they say they are surprised at the quality and how good the quality is."

Grimmel said the judges are often from other regions and comment on the quality of animals on the East Coast.

"That's really nice to hear from different judges," she said.

Jay Rickey, of Goose Creek Farm in Whiteford, said his two daughters, Paige and Brooke, will also be at the state fair for the fourth year.

He expected them to collectively take about three heifers and three sheep.

Rickey said one issue with the fair is it falls at the same time as the start of school, which means Paige and Brooke cannot show at all the events.

He agreed the state fair is relatively similar to the Harford Farm Fair.

"It's actually a lot of the same things, just farther away and there's more people there, so it's a bigger competition," he said, adding that it's coinciding with the start of school makes it difficult for some people.

"We are lucky that we are within an hour and a half of the fairgrounds, and with school starting earlier and earlier and earlier and the fair starting earlier and earlier and earlier, we can still do it, but it's frustrating that some people can't do it," he said.

Rickey said that last year the state fair organizers did try to move the show events to slightly different times.

The fair organizers also try to keep residents of the same counties together in their stalls, he said.

In the past, he said, "we came up and took care of the animals together."

"We do pretty well, but it's kind of how it turns out," Rickey said about Harford's past results at the state fair. "When you go to the open show, you are going to show against people who have a lot of money. Some people buy their show animal, some people raise it themselves. We had a 4-H grand champion [heifer] that we were really proud of that we raised on our farms."

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