Farm Beat: Stanislaus County Fair farmers market taps our ag roots

jholland@modbee.comJuly 12, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John
    E-mail: jholland@modbee.com

You might have done a double-take when reading that the Stanislaus County Fair, which started Friday, has a new farmers market.

How dare the organizers tempt us away from our strict diet of corn dogs, funnel cakes and chocolate-covered bacon!

Actually, it's a good thing that the produce is on hand, and not just because it's a healthy break from the fair fare.

The market reminds us that the fair grew out of farming and remains rooted in the soil even in our modern world.

It traces its origins to the Turlock Melon Carnival, launched in 1911 on Main Street to celebrate an industry that thrived here at the time.

The carnival lapsed during and after World War I, but the American Legion revived it in 1925. It then moved to a North Broadway field that is part of today's fairgrounds. The event became the Stanislaus District Fair in 1941 and the Stanislaus County Fair in 1956.

It has remained a popular gathering even as the county population has grown, mostly on city lots some distance from farm fields. About 221,000 people passed through the gates during its 10-day run last year.

OK, so many of them came not to honor agriculture, but to ride the Zipper, catch the Wiggles concert or see the Destruction Derby. But the fair at least brought them to a place where, by walking a short distance, they could see livestock exhibits and other signs of rural life.

Right next to the Budweiser Variety Free Stage, where the big-name concerts take place, are rabbit and poultry barns and a milking parlor for dairy cows.

Tonight, perhaps, Weird Al Yankovic will take a post-concert stroll and find himself face to face with a prize Rhode Island Red. Nothing weird about that.

The encroachment of modern life onto a tradition-steeped event should not trouble us. Just the opposite: The fair's survival testifies to the strength of the farm economy, which has helped us through a downturn caused mainly by a hyperactive housing market.

For the best evidence, walk through the livestock area and see all the 4-Hers in their crisp white uniforms and FFA members in their blue corduroy jackets. They will never outnumber the fairgoers dressed in T-shirts and shorts, but they always will be the heart and soul of the event.

The farmers market adds a little more local flavor. The organizers partnered with the weekly market in downtown Turlock to offer fresh fruit and vegetables, hand-cut toffee and warm roasted almonds.

You can still get your chocolate-covered bacon elsewhere on the grounds, but chances are you won't meet the hog and cacao farmers who produced it.

The farmers market will be from 5 to 8 p.m. weekdays and noon to 8 p.m. weekends throughout the fair's run, which goes through July 21. It's in Building 26, near the southeast corner of the carnival midway.

Have an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at jholland@modbee.com.


TODAY AT THE FAIR

It is Emanuel Medical Center Day at the Stanislaus County Fair and Senior Free Day. Seniors age 65 and older get in free with a bonus free ride on the carousel. The first 1,000 guests get gifts from Emanuel.

• WHAT TO DO: Nothing beats an old-fashioned truck and tractor pull, with mean machines showing off their power in 15 different weight classes at the FoodMaxx Arena.

• HIGHLIGHTS: Get into the competitive spirit at the hand-milking contest for dairy-Holsteins and goats, as well as a hay bucking contest and goat dress-up and bottle-feeding contest at 4 p.m. at the dairy show ring.

• CENTER STAGE: Cowgirl Rope Tricks, 2 and 4 p.m; Street Lamp Junkies Rock, 5:30-7:45 p.m; Big Earl and the Cryin' Shame, 8-10:30 p.m.

• COMMUNITY STAGE: Backstage, 1:30-3 p.m; Desert Wind Dancers, 3:30-5:30 p.m; Zephyr, 6-7:30 p.m; Off the Traxx, 8-9:30 p.m.

• XFINITY STAGE: JD Platt & K9 Kings, 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.; Lucky Starr, Cowgirl Stiltwalker, noon and 5 p.m.

• HOURS: Gates open at noon; exhibit buildings close at 11 p.m.; carnival closes at midnight.

• PARK 'N' RIDE: 11:30 a.m. to midnight; park and ride free from CSU, Stanislaus (Crowell Road off Monte Vista Avenue), or Pitman High School (Christoffersen Parkway). Shuttles run every 15 to 20 minutes.

• WHERE: From Highway 99, exit at Fulkerth Road in Turlock and head east. For fairgrounds parking, turn right on Soderquist Road, or go past Soderquist for more parking; $4 per vehicle.

• ADMISSION: $12 for adults, $5 for children 7 to 12 and seniors 65 and older, free for 6 and younger. (FoodMaxx Arena events area additional.)

• INFORMATION: www.stancofair.com, (209) 668-1333

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