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County fair offers sights, sounds, smells of Lawrence County

ROME TOWNSHIP - Most of the year, the Lawrence County Fairgrounds sits quiet and empty, a strip of land along State Route 7 with tidy wooden structures along blacktop and gravel paths.

But for eight days every summer, it becomes a field of dreams for approximately 100 youths who converge on the fairgrounds to showcase their talents.

Some will take home a ribbon for their labors. All will take home a sense of pride in knowing they accomplished something, be it animal care or gardening or art, and that their accomplishment was recognized and admired.

"This is their chance to shine and for people to see what they've been doing all year," said Lawrence County 4-H agent Laura Jane Murphy. "This is a chance to show off a lot of good kids and good parents and put the spotlight on them and what they've been doing."

A full barn, busy youth

Fourteen-year-old Olivia Brock is hoping for a grand champion goat or heifer this year - or both if she is very very fortunate.

Brock, a Getaway Go-getter,

will show two goats and one heifer. She started last December with three little newborn animals.

Seven months and countless hours of work later, the goats and the heifer have been trained, fed, bathed and showered with attention - attention she hopes will be noticed when the animals meet the judges at the livestock arena.

In the Brock family, all four daughters are 4-H ladies: Olivia and sisters Kayla, Mariah and Carrie will collectively bring eight animals to show.

"I started with goats a couple of years ago," she said. "Pigs are a little harder and goats just seemed more fun. They're tame. I saw my cousin take a steer one year and I thought I might try a heifer first."

She is hoping each animal will bring $200 to $300 - or more - when bidders come on Saturday.

The animals will begin arriving at the livestock barn and small animal barn today. Murphy said the number of livestock exhibits have increased over last year, and much that the increase is due to the rising popularity of market goats.

"The first year we had it, three years ago, we had 16 goats, last year we had 32 and this year it's 68," she said.

What makes a goat so popular? Murphy said goats are smaller than, say, cattle or horses and require less room, a real consideration for children with limited space in the barn or the pasture.

Nevermind the saying about stubborn, temperamental humans being like "an old goat." Murphy said the reputation is undeserved, goats can be fun.

"They tend to bond easy with people, and kids enjoy working with goats," she said.

As for other animals, lamb entries are down a little from last year but there will be 87 pens of rabbits - an increase. Most other animals will number about the same as in previous years.

"We've got a full barn down there," Murphy said.

Not just hooved thing

Murphy emphasized that while the livestock may get a lot of attention, children who do not have farm animals are also taking part at the fair with a broad range of other exhibits.

"We also have photography, woodworking, electricity, small engines, genealogy, even laundry," she said. "Some people still have the impression that 4-H is a rural activity and this is not true."

New events

Fair board member Frank Call said two new events this year are the llama show, slated for today, and the miniature donkey show, which was Saturday following the horse show.

"They (llama and small donkey enthusiasts) came in and asked if they could put them in the fair and we wanted something new," he said.

Llamas have found their way to the fair previously but never had an actual show of their own. The small donkeys are relatively new to the area.

Originally from Sardinia and Sicily, this breed of donkey is popular as a pet in other areas, but not here, said Jim Mayberry of Chesapeake, who raises miniature donkeys with his wife, Sharon. Mayberry said he hopes the show at the fair will change that.

Jim Mayberry said the small donkeys are not livestock, they're pets with hooves.

"They are old-men donkeys," Mayberry joked. "They're very gentle, easy to keep, very low maintenance."

Ronnie Goss, of Chesapeake,

started keeping small donkeys a couple of years ago. Like Mayberry, he will tell you he is hooked.

"I've raised a lot of different animals but these will steal your heart quicker than anything," Goss said. "They're like a dog. They will follow you around. It's something the kids can pet."

Can you spare time?

Maytag Walters of Scottown spent Saturday morning hauling sawdust to the livestock arena to get it ready for this week's competitions. It is one of many jobs he will perform this week, all for the sake of those young people who want to take home a ribbon at the fair.

"I'll keep the grass mowed, just anything they'll holler for me to do," Walters said. "I'll be here every day."

And those days tend to run together during fair week. It is not uncommon for volunteers to start out at 7 a.m. one morning, and not make it to bed until 2 or 3 the following morning. Just ask Walters.

Randy Lambert raked the sawdust as Walters loaded it onto the arena floor.

"I grew up with the fair, basically, and I've been here ever since," he said. "When my daughter (Tonnette) started showing (animals) I started helping. Here I am."

Murphy and Call said they are thankful for the more than 100 volunteers who come each year and help make the fair a success for the children.

Lambert said the pleasure was his.

"Nowhere else can you take 200 or 300 kids, put them together for eight days in the hot sun, or in a hot barn and not have a minute's trouble out of them."

Fair food

Think fair and it is hard not to think of fair food. The unmistakable smell greets you almost from the moment you walk through the gates.

Rachel Hayes of the Teresa Chapter of the Eastern Star will spend the next eight days serving up corn dogs, hot dogs and cold drinks to growling bellies.

Each year since the 1980s, the Eastern Star has had a concession stand at the Lawrence County Fair.

It is one of more than a dozen food vendor booths that offer a selection of both culinary sin and sustenance. Steak sandwiches? Funnel cakes? Lemon shakeups? Bloomin' onions? You can find it at the fair every year.

"We keep the same menu from year to year. Soup beans and corn bread is the big thing. These country boys like their soup beans and corn bread and the politicians do, too," Hayes said with a laugh.

The Eastern Star along will serve up some 60 pounds of dry beans and more than 1,300 hot dogs this week.

"And I'll probably have to go for more hot dogs by Thursday," Hayes said.

While it is a money maker for the local organization, the concession stand is also a reason for old friends to gather at the picnic tables.

"You know every year you're going to spend a week with certain people and you look forward to it," Hayes said. "It's fun and fellowship."