James Monroe’s Highland is best known for its presidential sobriquet, but this week the homestead’s cognomen will be ‘country,’ for livestock, delicious food and educational booths of the Albemarle County Fair.
Captivated by the sound of bleating animals, the mouth-watering aroma of funnel cakes and sonorous tones of live music, visitors had a plethora of activities from which to choose at the fair’s opening day Thursday.
This is the first time the fair has been held in full-blown fashion since 2019.
Underneath one of the tents, Albemarle County contestants Adeline Sokolowski and Madison Spradlin delicately prepared for Friday’s contest. The two are planning to show off their spotted-skin hog called Gipgip.
Gipgip, like her other fellow ruminants, was reclining in leisure, perhaps in hope of preserving energy to impress the judges.
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“Most of them [judges] are looking for muscle mass in the shoulders and around the butt area and also for temperament, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re looking for, like, a food animal,” Sokolowski said.
The fair also attracts some former contestants.
Mariah Vain, a current Albemarle County Fair Board Member, was competing last year. But this time she hopes to spread love for the fair and the 4-H Club, and to encourage youngsters to dive into agriculture.
“I think it’s fun. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s always worth it,” Vain said. “There’s a lot of reward in your work and it’s not easy to find such gratification from just any job.”
In front of another tent, Jason Woodle, marketing and events manager for Highland and an organizer of the fair, talked about animal auctions scheduled for Saturday.
Most of the animals that kids bring in will be auctioned off and the proceeds will get passed on to that child for college.
“A lot of these kids are looking forward to going to an agricultural program like Virginia Tech or another agricultural school,” Woodle said. “It really gives them an opportunity to help pay for college.”
Although the fair will not present the student program created in 2019 intended to get students interested in raising livestock, the event will offer a collection of attractions Friday which include a military encampment, spinning and weaving, a blacksmith guest and silhouette photography.
Even though livestock and livestock contests are the headliners, local vendors and their displays are just as important for the occasion. One of them is the Central Virginia Beekeepers Association.
Standing between the netted displays dominated by honeybees and tables decorated with flavorful honey samples, Ken Hall, the association’s president, hopes to educate the public on the value of honeybees and the equipment needed for beekeeping.
Hall said that the number of beekeepers has stayed the same in Central Virginia in the past few years. The problem is that the number of beginner beekeeping classes has dropped during the pandemic. Thus, the association was receiving lots of calls from entry-level beekeepers who were getting into trouble with limited training upfront.
“People ask, ‘is it hard to get into beekeeping?’ I always say no, it’s very easy. All you need is a checkbook or credit card,” Hall said. “It’s staying in beekeeping that is the hard part.”
The fair will be open from 10 am to 9 pm Friday and Saturday. Admission is $5 per person ages six and older. Free parking is available. More information can be found at https://albemarlecountyfair.com.