- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

Although computers claim quarters alongside the cows these days, fair-goers will see the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair in Gaithersburg, Md. is still the same showcase for farmers and 4-Hers it has been since it began in 1949. If a touch of the city peeps through, that's because organizers have kept up with the times.
The fair began yesterday and will end Aug. 18. Admission today is $3 per person. Children seven and under will be admitted free every day. Tomorrow, admission will increase to $5 per person and will remain at that rate until the fair ends. The gates open at 8 a.m. each day and close at midnight. No one will be allowed entry after 11 p.m.
Like other county fairs in Washington's inner suburbs, Montgomery's has taken on an urban flavor. Goat entries have grown with tastes for gourmet cheese and an influx of immigrants whose diets have traditionally featured goat meat and milk.
For the first time, the fair catalog and tickets can be ordered on the Internet (www.mcagfair.com). Next year, even contestants will benefit they will be able to make their entries on-line, as competitors in the state and Frederick County fairs do now, said spokeswoman Margaret Soper.
While there are more people and fewer farms in Montgomery County these days about 873,000 persons and 500 farms compared with roughly 164,000 persons and 1,555 farms when the fair opened 52 years ago many parents want to instill in their children the old-fashioned values and self-reliance associated with farm life.
Fair officials are more than happy to oblige; they are committed to preserving the fundamentals of rural life. So, while folks will be able to see a soy-cooking contest, they will also be taught to churn butter.
The fair's board of directors has found new ways to promote the agriculture that remains in the county. For the second year, miniature horses will have their own class, or field of competition, alongside the saddle and sport horses that make up the biggest part of Montgomery County's agricultural economy, followed by horticulture and traditional farming.
The fair is keeping the old and adding the best of the new. llamas, popular for their quiet nature and usefulness as pack or saddle animals for amateur adventurers, will have a class of their own. And the new soy-cooking contest the brainchild of a woman whose health crisis led her to learn the benefits of soybean products is expected to draw serious interest in a region whose educated and diverse population has an eclectic palate.
Some recent additions even recall earlier times, like the Home School Activities slated for 3 p.m. Monday. Putting that growing group of students on the fair calendar gives them a chance to show their work to each other and the community.
Many suburban 4-Hers who don't have the room in the back yards to keep animals can still participate in dairy and beef cattle, goat, sheep, swine and poultry clubs by making special arrangements to raise and care for livestock they can't keep at home. For example, last year's Fair King, Ben Evans, keeps his steer at the farm of last year's Fair Queen, Marla Luther.
Roughly half the 900 4-H members in the county belong to a more recent creation community clubs where they apply head, heart, hands and health, the components of the 4-H pledge, to a range of interests that require little land or space.
"We can make a project out of any interest a child has," said Fil Ryan, superintendent of 4-H booth exhibits.
Jan Baweja a club leader and one of about 300 adult 4-H volunteers in Montgomery County said she wanted 4-H to be part of her daughter's lives in Olney as it had been in her own childhood on a farm in Warren County, Ohio.
Ed Hogan of Damascus, leader of a 4-H advanced electric club and supervisor of the fair's Big Cheese food booth, said his whole family got involved in 4-H and the fair when his enthusiastic daughter, now president of the Maryland 4-H All Stars, did. Standing on milk crates because they were still too young to reach the kitchens' big sinks, Mr. Hogan's children accrued many of the 200 volunteer work hours by washing dishes, which earned them fair membership, he said.

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