It’s the middle of August, which means that my hometown is playing host to the county fair.

I’ve always loved the fair. As a boy, I loved it for the rides and attractions: the Ferris wheel, the Spider, the Fun House, the games. As a teenager, I loved it as a place to take dates and to hang out with friends. But as an adult, I love it as a showcase of the skills and talents possessed by my friends and neighbors, and as a lingering slice of Americana. When I walk onto the fairgrounds, I feel like I’m walking back in time.

Nearly every year for as long as I can remember, I’ve made the annual trek to wander the grounds, petting the pigs and goats, looking at the vegetables and preserves, admiring the photography and art, and to watch the rodeo. It’s rare these days to find a place that highlights the work of the average person. Most of what we see is mass-produced and mass-marketed — “homemade” seems to be a dying art. But at the county fair, homemade reigns supreme.

If you’ve never watched a group of junior high schoolers show the sheep they’ve raised, you’re missing out. Around here, llamas are a big deal:


Because the Willamette Valley remains an agricultural region, there are plenty of vegetables on display at the fair. You can find rows of garden-grown peppers and carrots and corn. My favorite, though, are the freaks of nature:


From time-to-time, I even show stuff that I’ve made. It costs nothing to enter the art and photography competitions, yet there’s the chance to win big ribbons and small cash prizes:


I’ve been encouraging Kris to enter her preserves in the food competitions, but she hasn’t accepted the challenge yet. I think it’s only a matter of time before she brings home some blue ribbons of her own.

The county fair makes me happy — it’s evidence that there are still people who make and grow things with their own hands instead of just consuming. (I’m always reminded of Action Girl, for some reason.)

From 1947, here’s a cheesy short film extolling the virtues of a day at the fair.


I know that in some places — Minnesota, for example — it’s the state fair that’s important, but for me it’s all about the Clackamas County Fair.

9 Replies to “Why I Love the County Fair”

  1. susan says:

    When I lived in Oklahoma City, I loved the state fair. I would encourage anyone who has not attended to go. Nothing like the greasy food (yum) and the pig races!

    The canned goods were very interesting. These are truly works of art. It seemed that every vegetable was beautifully placed in the jar. You really have to appreciate that the mundane chore of preserving food until the next growing season can be raised to an art form.

  2. Ben says:

    In Iowa, it’s all about the State Fair too. In fact, in ’05 it was voted second only to Las Vegas as a summer tourist destination. Our County Fairs (there are a few GREAT ones left) are declining in popularity.

  3. Mary says:

    This is off topic, but I didn’t know where else to put it. I’ve already reported to Google AdWords that one of the ads they served up to me on this site looks like a scam. Canadian visitors may see an ad pointing them to to get a chance to win $5000, but I verified that this suspicious domain was not registered to the Canadian bank, but to some guy living in France. The destination page is laid out to look like the bank web site, but I avoided clicking on any of the links for obvious reasons.

    J.D., you’re obviously not responsible for the specific ads being served up, and as I said, I have already contacted Google, but I wanted to warn any other Canadian visitors that if they see that ad here, it’s NOT from the real bank.

  4. rhbee says:

    Well actually, Mary, a post about a fair is a perfect place to comment about a scam. Every fair has a carnival. And that is where PT Barnum made his money by betting that there’s a sucker born every minute. Of course, he was talking about the circus but they are mostly gone these days since the animal rights groups have applied their pressure. Still, carneys love to create the illusion of getting something for nothing.

    On the other hand, the fair is usually divided up into two parts, the rides and games of the carnival, and the exhibits of animal raising, art, photography, and crafts. All of which is immersed in food, food, and more food.

    We work the fair in Orange County, California which has been able to walk the line between the giant fairs of San Diego and LA County and the old time country fairs of yesteryear pretty successfully. Still the illusion of the older exhibit oriented fair that J.D. showed us in his film is what I find myself buying into each year as we set up and work our booth right next to the farm lot and down the street from the carnival.

  5. J.D. says:

    Thanks, Mary. I’ve submitted the ad to my block list, and have e-mailed Google…

  6. Starving Artist says:

    JD – this is a great piece! It feels like a well written magazine article 🙂

  7. Kelly says:

    You are so right about the Minnesota State Fair. We live about 4 hours away and make the trek every year. Tons to see and hours of enjoyment! Viva La Fair!

  8. Drew says:

    Minnesota definitely has an amazing state fair but the rural county fairs are an entirely different and equally anticipated experience. I grew up in Carver County, and the CC Fair was a great place for all the experiences mentioned above. As a kid I showed a lot of my art, and we all went to support friends and family in their 4H showings. And who doesn’t love a good country demolition derby?

    I’ve since relocated to Texas. The fairs just aren’t the same down here.

  9. Mary says:

    I made The Boyfriend take me to Columbus two weeks ago to visit the Ohio State Fair. It was great, for all the reasons cited here.

    My favorite things at the fair were the quilts, the needlework, other handicrafts, and of course, the world-famous Butter Cow.

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