The Westmoreland Fair is celebrating its 60th year and will be held Friday through Aug. 23 at the fairgrounds in Mount Pleasant Township, near the village of Mutual.
The fair began in the mid-1950s as a way for farmers and businessmen to show off what was — and remains — the No 1. industry in the state: agriculture.
Back then, the three-day event was held at Idlewild Park and those in 4-H or Future Farmers of America clubs displayed their animals, tractors and quilts.
Today, the fair has mushroomed into a nine-day event of agriculture and entertainment for farm families and the public, with a carnival midway and a grandstand arena for the big events.
Fair officials noted that many farm families take a week off from their normal routines and stay in RVs and campers. They bring their prized cows, chickens, llamas, dogs and cats to show and be judged. And many compete in tractor pulls, and apple pie- and chocolate cake-baking contests.
Like the general public, they get to enjoy the festival food — including barbecued pigs wings and chocolate-covered bacon. Carnival games and rides are part of the entertainment.
“The teenagers and those in their 20s seem to enjoy the carnival — the rides and booths,” said Michelle Long, fair secretary.
“But I see a lot of families with younger children going through the barns to see the animals; they watch the cows getting milked or watch a sheep being sheared to learn where wool comes from.”
And for everyone — last year 62,000 people attended — there are 300 vendors as well.
“We have everything from computer network sales to lawn mowers to Amish furniture and sheds for sale,” she said.
“We started the hot air balloon rides last year, and they are popular.”
The balloons are tethered, so riders don’t stray too far, and the proceeds go to the county food bank.
As part of the opening ceremonies Friday night, a new fair queen will be announced.
This year’s queen, Hattie Henderson of New Florence, will pass on her crown. She will be a sophomore at Penn State University in the fall. As Westmoreland’s queen, she has attended community festivals in the region representing the county fair, and she attends an annual competition in Harrisburg.
Fairgoers also can take advantage of exhibits and demonstrations, such as nutrition programs, where people can learn the advantages of eating locally grown food.
“A lot of people are getting back into canning vegetables themselves, so we’ll have some demonstrations on that during Senior Day,” Ms. Long said.
The fair has added many categories for judging in recent years and gets more than 1,000 entries a year. Participants can win best of show for homemade wine or beer, photography or pumpkin decorating, for example.
Weekend nights bring the biggest crowds, with the monster truck competitions, demolition derbies and tractor pulls among the most popular events. There is also a fireworks display.
The large grandstand seats about 5,000 people, and that’s often full on those nights.
Westmorland County has about 200 farmers who raise dairy cows and other farmers who grow mainly vegetables, such as corn and soybeans.
“I’d say about 50 percent of the corn you see along the roads is sweet corn that is sold locally at road stands and at farmers markets,” Ms. Long said. "The other half is field corn that is grown for the animals.”
Of course the most important factor to the success of the fair is the weather.
So far, it’s been a rainy summer.
“There’s really been too much rain for the crops this year, the farmers are having trouble getting into the fields to get the crops,” she said.
Organizers are hoping for a dry week.
“We are already doing our rain dance,” Ms. Long said, explaining, “It’s OK if it rains between midnight and 4 a.m. during the fair. Last year, it was good. It only rained during non-essential times. We just don’t want any rain between 4:30 and 6 p.m., then no one comes.
“People think our parking fields are going to be muddy if it rains, but they aren’t really. If you wear a pair of white sneakers, they will still be white at the end of the night. It’s hay out there in the areas we use for parking right now. We’ll cut it down, so it’s not the kind of grass where you have mud holes.”
The fair grounds are at 123 Blue Ribbon Lane. General admission, which includes parking and rides, is $7. Most grandstand events are $5. More information: www.westmorelandfair.com.
Debra Duncan, freelance writer: email@example.com.