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by Alex Muto
The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County has always worked to better the community through local environmental and health research education. The extension sponsors a variety of public outlets, including 4-H, a program to engage youth with the important environmental research of the CCE.
The 4-H program, which sponsors a variety of area educational events, is perhaps best known for the Niagara County Fair, arguably the largest, most popular and fastest-growing fair and festival in the region.
Since the 4-H program celebrates its 75th birthday this year, the upcoming Niagara County Fair will offer an unprecedented look into the history of this organization, as well as many new and beloved fair events, musicians, activities and traditions.
The Cornell Cooperative Extension announces events from the opening breakfast on Wednesday, Aug. 1, until Sunday's closing ceremony, will honor the 4-H group. Historian John K. Hall will speak at the Farm City Breakfast on Wednesday, Aug. 3, at 8 a.m., the fair's opening ceremony.
Linda Conlin, a Niagara County Fair committee member and publicity manager, says that Hall is a well-trained historian who has thoroughly explored the history of 4-H. She explains, "He's going to capture the rich history of 4-H that he has collected over many years."
At 9:15 a.m. immediately following the breakfast, attendees will head to the Memorial Garden. Here, a bench will be dedicated to Norman Sinclair, a supporter of 4-H who passed away this year. Conlin announced that a flag-raising ceremony has recently been organized. It will occur prior to the bench dedication. Congresswoman Kathy Hochul donated one flag, and 4-H sponsors donated another.
Nathan Mann, who also took part in the 50th anniversary, will be present for this year's ceremony to bridge the past and present. Conlin added, "Nathan Mann, a 4-H member who now lives in Washington, D.C., will come down on Saturday and participate with us."
A few other events will honor this important landmark in 4-H history as well. On Saturday, Aug. 4, the event's Main Food Tent will host a Dutch-treat luncheon at noon. A 4-H fashion show at 1 p.m. will offer a sneak peek at some of the 4-H members' talents in fashion design. Conlin says, "Following the alumni luncheon, a fashion show is scheduled around 1 o'clock. We have many designs created by 4-H members, including one 4-H member's wedding dress she made while affiliated with the group." Finally, visitors will enjoy a unique culinary delight, a "cake quilt" on display in the training center.
When asked about the cake, Conlin explained that it's not one large sheet cake, but many cakes, each with significant symbols representing different sects of the 4-H group. "Each cake will be 4-H themed, with different clubs decorating one that symbolize their purpose. For example, our horseback-riding group might do a cake with a horse on it. They will be placed on a table together like a patchwork quilt."
The final celebration of the 4-H group's contributions to the fair will occur during closing ceremonies Sunday, Aug. 5, where important members of 4-H will be in a parade.
These events promise to be a wonderful representation of the group that makes this fair possible. Conlin notes that these important events are sure to draw in a more diverse crowd for the fair than usual. "We are expecting visitors that haven't been here in years due to the anniversary."
In addition to the 75th anniversary celebration, the Niagara County Fair will offer plenty of other new entertainers and entertainment. Those anticipating the Niagara County Fair's eclectic musical offerings will experience new sounds at all three stages at the event, the main stage, the food court stage, and the milk bar stage.
On the main stage, Caribbean Extravaganza, a family drum ensemble that performs multicultural music in five different languages, plays on Thursday, Aug. 2, from 4 to 7 p.m. The main stage will also offer 9 Miles till Empty's first fair performance on Friday, Aug. 3, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Finally, on Saturday, Aug. 4, the main stage offers premiere Niagara County Fair performances by guitar virtuoso Jimmy Luttrell from 5 to 7 p.m. and 7th Heaven, a band that has set attendance records in the tri-state region, from 7 until 11 p.m. The food court stage will offer the debut Niagara County Fair performance by 2nd Time Around on Friday, Aug. 3, from 2 to 4 p.m.
A new stage, located near the 4-H Milk Bar, will introduce new performers as well. These include Lochside Celtic Band on Wednesday, Aug. 1, from 3 to 5 p.m., Rachel Mellas on Friday, Aug. 3, from 8 until 10 p.m., and Gravitational Bull, jugglers performing on Saturday, Aug. 4, from 11 a.m. until noon, 5 and 7:30 p.m. Finally, Glenn Colton, an esteemed children's musician, performs on Sunday, Aug. 5, at 1 p.m. and again at 2:15 p.m.
Attendees can also enjoy both new dishes to the festival and classic Niagara County Fair delights. There will be many new vendors, offering fare like "gourmet hot dogs" and sausage sandwiches. Those in the mood for more traditional fare can enjoy ice cream delights, desserts, and traditional fair food from the 4-H milk bar, pies from the 4-H pie kitchen, and other food items.
Conlin notes that a few items on the fair menu are particularly important to the fair's mission. The chicken barbecues cost $8 for a dinner and will be on sale on Thursday, Aug. 2, from noon until they are sold out. They are unparalleled because the barbecue recipe came from the Cornell Co-operative Extension, and inspired other local barbecues.
"At the chicken sale, the cooks use barbecue sauce, which was developed at Cornell. When this event started, it was probably the only one of its type," raves Conlin.
Other dishes to try include the gourmet popcorn from the 4-H Scholarships, Trips, and Awards Group stand. Conlin explains, "proceeds from their sales benefit scholarships and grants for the 4-H program."
The fair's beloved traditions will also continue to thrill visitors. Conlin notes that, in particular, the classic car show, antique tractor show and livestock auction "are big draws" for the event, eagerly awaited by regular visitors. The two vehicle displays are a great opportunity to view some incredible classic vehicles from the area. During the Antique Tractor Show and Parade, tractors and vehicles on display the entire fair will be given a formal introduction in the parade on Wednesday, Aug. 1, at 7 p.m. The classic car show will take place on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Niagara County Fair's livestock auction is popular, as few fairs offer the opportunity to purchase locally and carefully raised meat. The livestock auction, where visitors can bid on quality lambs and beef, will take place on Friday, Aug. 3, at 6:15 p.m.
At the festival, younger visitors can try their hand with tending to farm animals. Conlin announces that this year, visitors between ages 4 and 11 can take part in "Little Britches Showmanship." Children will learn to tend to, and show, dairy calves in a show ring. The event is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for children to learn about tending to farms, even those with no experience farming or tending to calves. Conlin notes that the only prerequisite to the activity is "enthusiasm to try something new." The free event takes place on Sunday, Aug. 5, at 11 a.m. Signup is at 10:45 a.m.
Conlin notes that two activities introduced to the fair just last year, "Bring a Book" and the "Hot Shots Basketball Competition," were extremely popular and will be offered again.
"These events were incredibly popular last year," notes Conlin. For Bring a Book, which is offered every day from noon to 6 p.m., visitors may bring a used book or two and exchange it for another book. Conlin explains the event was so popular last year that the fair committee has decided to allow visitors to purchase a book for a donation if they do not have a book to exchange. "We had so many people interested in the event last year that hadn't known to bring a book beforehand, we ended up saying that if you want to take a book, you can make a donation."
Last year's Hot Shot Basketball Competition featured a basketball game where contestants are given 45 seconds to try to make baskets from five spots on the court with specified point totals. The difference in this year's event is that the event is "specifically at 5 p.m. each day, it is not throughout the entire day like last year," notes Conlin.
The fair has proven a dependable source for local fun. New events, anniversary-themed events and classic events alike are sure to pleasantly surprise visitors. Each year, new activities expand the fair's success. Conlin notes, "These surprises add an important dimension to the program." With the 4-H anniversary this year, plenty of new memories will be made.
The fair takes place on Wednesday, Aug. 1, until Sunday, Aug. 5, at the fairgrounds on Lake Avenue in Lockport. It is open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., with some special events beginning earlier. Admission costs $2 on Wednesday through Friday and $3 on Saturday and Sunday. Parking is free.
For more information and schedules, visit http://www.niagaracountyfair.org.