One of the summer season's most delightful family diversions started this week with the opening of the Cecil County Fair. Until closing day on Aug. 3, the Fair Hill Fairgrounds will be filled with 4-H produce and animal exhibits. There will be a demolition derby, tractor pulls and horse and livestock shows.
Throughout Maryland, 15 other county fairs will be held between now and the end of September. A cow milking contest and pig auction are among attractions at the Somerset County Fair in Princess Anne (Aug. 1-3), logging displays and numerous agricultural education exhibits are draws at the Harford County Farm Fair in Bel Air (Aug. 1-4), antique farm equipment can be seen at the Washington County Ag Expo in Hagerstown (Aug. 5-10).
The Howard County Fair in West Friendship (Aug. 10-17) and the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair in Gaithersburg (Aug. 16-24) are among the biggies of the season, which closes with the Calvert County Fair in Prince Frederick (Sept. 25-29). In between are such favorites as the Anne Arundel County Fair in Crownsville (Sept. 11-15), featuring country singer Tammy Wynette, and the Great Frederick Fair in Frederick (Sept. 17-21).
This annual parade of farming achievements, crafts, food and entertainment underscores the major role of agriculture in Maryland's economy. Although the state has been urbanizing so rapidly that the number of farms declined from 16,000 in 1988 to 15,600 in 1989, agriculture still is a $1.3-billion industry. Crops and the nature of farming may be changing but thousands of Maryland families still get their livelihood from the earth.
There is something of an irony at work here. Even as the number of working farms continues to decline, the popularity of fairs keeps surging. The Maryland State Fair registered a new record last year, when 618,000 visitors flocked to the Timonium Fairgrounds. Environmental awareness and conservation are broadening the scope of many fairs. This year's State Fair, to be held Aug. 24-Sept. 2 (along with thoroughbred racing), tries a novel opening-day gimmick: anyone bringing in at least 12 recyclable aluminum cans will be admitted free of charge.