News from the Farm | July 28, 2014

 California State Fair

A few days ago I went to the California State Fair with my niece Emi. Walking in at the main entrance, we were greeted by promotional displays of cars and hot tubs, but we soon found ourselves in the big barn, talking to farmers about their sheep and watching them groom their llamas and alpacas. Several farmers, working on a large handsome sheep standing still for them as they clipped away, called it “sculpting,” not grooming. Two teenage girls, there with their family and their sheep, were making yarn bracelets, and gave Emi and I one each, as they told us about their ranch in Oroville.  Everyone was preparing for the show when their prized animals would be judged.

The livestock shows require a significant commitment from the animal’s owners who often spend almost a week at the fair.  The animals get weighed and checked by a vet. There is a week-and-a-half dedicated to 4-H and FFA animals and their keepers, but then the fair opens up to all animal producers and some of the most beautiful livestock animals in the state arrive, products of farms where families have been breeding and keeping animals for generations. 

State and county fairs have been organized in the U.S. since 1841, and take place all over the country. They were started for the purpose of promoting agriculture, but have evolved  and expanded to include all kinds of other amusements and diversions (some for better, maybe some for worse!). The fair will have ended by the time you read this, but with its focus on agriculture and culture, it struck me this year, as a really great way to get people together.

There are competitions and contests of all kinds, for example crafts, fine art, performance, beer brewing and wine making. When our home-county of Yolo offers its fair every year (one of the last fairs in the state with free entrance), our crew members dress in some of their best clothes and make a Sunday family trip of it. My niece Emi, who grew up and lives in Japan, had never before been to anything like it.

Full Belly farmer, Hallie Muller, is a member of the Board of Directors of the California Exposition and State Fair. I asked her why she felt so committed to the Fair and she said that she appreciates the culture of learning. “Fairs began so that knowledge could be shared – everyone would bring their best tomatoes, or their best jam, and they would share seeds and growing techniques.”

One of Hallie’s favorite parts of the fair is the farm that is on-site, that took up water conservation education as its focus this year.  The farm donates all of the food that it grows to organizations that serve people in need – almost 4000 pounds during the fair alone! With attendance up at least 10% this year, Hallie feels like the State Fair is staying relevant – and that people are interested more than ever in food and farming.

On the last day of the fair there will be an Iron Chef-like cooking competition between the three top chefs that have been competing throughout the fair.  They will have to cook using surprise ingredients. Here at Full Belly, we knew in advance what the surprise ingredients were going to be: A Full Belly Farm CSA box!

— Judith Redmond


Emi and a beautiful alpaca at the California State Fair. They had a staring contest – the alpaca easily won.