More than 70,000 people are expected to attend the annual Harford County Farm Fair from Thursday through Sunday at the Harford County Equestrian Center on North Tollgate Road in Bel Air.
The fair, in its eighth year, has become increasingly popular, transforming the Harford 4-H Club from a struggling group to one of the fastest-growing 4-H clubs in the state.
Last year, 4-H'ers had about 2,200 exhibits, and the number is up this year, said Elke Neuberger, chairwoman of the 4-H fair committee.
"Our membership has doubled from the time we left Rocks," Ms. Neuberger said.
In 1987, the Harford 4-H Club was holding its yearly fair in Rocks State Park to showcase achievements of its members in raising livestock and making crafts, but it was not popular with the public.
"The 4-H fair "was successful, but it was our own little secret," said Jeff Semler, the 4-H agent in the county extension service office. "The farm fair gives us a tremendous amount of exposure to the general public."
Reg Traband, then county extension director, said the proposal for moving and expanding the fair came from Dr. Richard Cook, now chairman of the farm fair committee, Ms. Neuberger and himself.
"The idea was to put together a series of events and entertainment to attract the people to the fairgrounds and give ,, publicity to the kids," Dr. Cook said.
The first farm fair was in 1988.
Dr. Cook said that nearly 80,000 people visited in 1994 although there was some rain. The daily attendance record of 32,000 was set on Saturday last year.
The 4-H events begin Wednesday night before the public is admitted. Judges evaluate the indoor exhibits, and the awards are displayed throughout the fair. Indoor exhibits include: clothing, canning of fruits and vegetables, woodworking, photography and fine arts.
All livestock that will be competing must be on the fairgrounds by 11 a.m. Thursday.
An English horse show starts the 4-H fair at 8 a.m. Thursday. Other events for the day are a tractor contest at 10 a.m. and the Harford County Farm Queen Contest at 6 p.m.
Highlights for Friday include a rooster-crowing contest at 9 a.m. and the showing of the dairy beef livestock at 5 p.m.
Saturday will open with the sheep show at 8:30 a.m. and close with the annual livestock sale at 5:30 p.m. Some of the livestock the 4-H'ers raised will be sold.
A dairy show is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sunday and a dog show at 2 p.m.
Other events will include a hot-air balloon race at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, monster truck rides and helicopter rides Saturday and Sunday and a rodeo at 2 p.m. Sunday. Competitions such as pig racing and demonstrations such as horse shoeing are held throughout the four days.
Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children ages 7 to 12. Children under 6 are admitted free. All children receive a card with 23 numbers for food, games and rides. Hot dogs, peanut butter sandwiches, snowballs and pony rides are a few of the things offered.
"It will take kids all day to do everything," Dr. Cook said, "and if they eat everything, they will probably be sick. And it doesn't cost mom an extra penny."