Traditional Fair Activities given a make-over this year

There is something special in the air during a particular week in Tulare County. School has already started, and September quietly follows. You begin to see bracelet booths crop up, and that’s when you know. Fair Week is coming.The people of this outspread county come together to share their best creations, cultivations and fruits of their efforts from over the course of the year. Anything, from the most beautiful quilts a guild has been working on to the largest vegetable grown, can be seen. Our county’s many amazing artists can showcase their art, photography, paintings, drawings, woodwork, baking and mechanical wonders in the gallery.  Students who have raised and tended livestock have an opportunity to showcase their animals and sell them to farms or interested buyers. People get to see how they measure up against others and share their work with everyone else. It usually starts on a Wednesday in September. People line up on Tulare Ave or K St,  getting there early in the morning to claim a spot that has been theirs for three generations. There is a time-honored tradition among Tulare County schools to have a holiday for students to not only experience the many aspects of the parade, but also because, somewhere within the many school marching bands, sports team/cheerleading floats, family work affiliated floats and other various floats exhibiting the various activities within Tulare County, our kids may be found. 

         The cacophony of sound once you enter the fair can usually be overwhelming.  Depending on which entrance you use, it will open up to a variety of scents and sounds. If you enter on the Ag/Animal side, you will smell the fresh hay for the animals and the distinct smell of manure. Your ears will be filled with the awe of the spectators, kids and adults alike, loud over the sounds of  animals grunting, mooing, braying and squawking away. You can hear the judges in the showroom. For many of us in this county, the smell and sounds of the ag side evoke  extremely nostalgia for our respective hometowns. For the fairgoer entering from one of the various other entrances, you will most likely hear the music from the speakers or the variety of shows going on all at once. As you enter, your senses are overwhelmed with sights, scents and, of course, even more sounds. For those who have never been interested in the rides, or agriculture or who have even come from beyond the neighboring towns, there is always one thing that becomes a staple, not just of the Tulare County Fair, but of all fairs:: the deliciously deep-fried fair foods. Whether it’s the trusty corndog, or the deliciously delicate funnel cake or that flat and fluffy elephant ear, there is always something special about the food, something about it you can’t easily whip up at home. Fair food is no joke;  it is by far the best and worst food in the world.  But not one of us can turn our heads away from the over-fried deliciousness available. You then approach the infamous midway. I can’t explain the love-hate relationship I have with the midway. When I was a teenager, the fair was where your significant other took you on the best date of your life. The midway is where you spent all your time. They can spend all their money trying to win you that cheap, sawdust-filled, jumbo-sized unidentifiable animal, yet together you still proceed to ride the questionable rides through the night. You spend hours cuddled up with each other in different sweaty, overly crowded lines for various attractions.The fair is a week-long affair for teenagers, them spending multiple evenings after school at the fairgrounds with each other.Then there are the parents and families who come with their younger children. Parents swarming the kids’ ride area and mothers looking, like ostriches, for a place to sit when it’s time to eat. The exhibit halls are full of venders, all asking you to vote for this candidate, or buy this product or specialty item.  

But I stray from my point in reminiscing. This Wednesday slipped by with a whisper. The only noticeable difference was the silence of laptops with no Zoom sessions thrumming on throughout the day. The fair looks drastically different. Many parts of the fairgrounds are virtual ghost towns. Exhibit halls are closed and the midway a long stretch of empty grass. People have still entered their different wares for various awards. Others still create their exhibits to be shown differently. While the FFA/4H portion of the fair is also still being held, it is in a different manner: the number of people allowed within is considerably lower and the show area is controlled with no audiences and all is done virtually. 

         The most unique venue the board has created to accommodate the needs of our COVID era is a drive-thru exhibit. The Fair has partnered with several different organizations to create a semblance of the experience all fairgoers have come to cherish. There will be a Fair food option offering our favorite corn dogs, cotton candy, lemonade and funnel cakes, along with ability to see several entries from county members and other special exhibits and shows along the way. While it may not be the Fair we know and love, we can still enjoy it and show support for what the talented people of Tulare County can create. The Drive-thru option not only showcased Tulare County talent, there is great music from local bands playing live during the evenings, side-show circus acts and some fun animatronics for the kids. Cars lined up for hours to eat and view all there was to offer.

         Many Fresno Pacific students hail from Tulare County towns and know what the Tulare County Fair has been in their lives. For those who aren’t and don’t, maybe your home has something similar, something that awakens the nostalgia for a time honored tradition like our little exhibition. For me, the County Fair has been a generational tradition of parade participation, baked goods, photography, the best in show and first place ribbons and passing on the enjoyment of the midway. This year may be different, but I hope that us Tulare County citizens can still feel the heartbeat of the Fair, the community putting forward its best efforts to be recognized.

Author: Janelle Fontaine and Shawn McCurry | Opinions Editor and Staff Writer

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