Walworth County Fair opens for 165th year

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ELKHORN—The sound of indignant mooing.

The smell of frying food.

The sight of white satin sashes, purple ribbons and green four-leaf clovers.

On Wednesday, the Walworth County Fair kicked off with the expected sights, sounds and smells. This year the fair is celebrating 100 years of 4-H. The first club in the state started with four boys and three girls in the town of Linn.

Opening day included:

God, then the governor: The Rev. Bob Kamps of Como Community Church opened the fair by noting that agriculture appears almost immediately in the Bible. Genesis 1:11 says: Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”

Several more speeches and a parade later, Gov. Scott Walker presented fair organizers with a plaque proclaiming Aug. 27 “100 Years of 4-H in Walworth County Day.”

“Being here feels like coming home,” said Walker, who grew up in Delavan.

The drive to Elkhorn provided Walker a visual resume of his first jobs: setting up tables at Lake Lawn Lodge and flipping burgers at McDonald's.

Walker was not in 4-H or FFA, but he remembered coming to the fair as a kid with his family. He especially remembered going to see musical acts such at Charley Pride and the Statler Brothers.

After taking questions about gaming compacts and promoting production tax credits for farmers, Walker weighed in on one of the contentious issues of the day: What to eat at the fair.

The governor's favorite? A cream puff from the Sweet Adelines.

Helping the historical society: The fair officially opened at 10 a.m., but by 9:15 a.m., people were already milling around the Walworth County Historical Society's book sale tables. The sale is one of the fair's secret pleasures. Antique book sellers come early, with scanners in hand to see what books are selling for on Amazon.com.

Others come for the ridiculously low prices: $2 for hardcovers more than 50 years old, $1 for hardcovers and 50 cents to $1 for paperbacks.

“It's our main fundraiser,” said Katie Donoghue, a docent for the historical society. “Last year, we sold more than 25,000 books.”

Because the tables of books are replenished every day, the sale retains its attraction for fairgoers who attend multiple days.

The books are organized by topic and type, and you can find everything from “What My Cat Taught Me about Life,” to a hardcover copy of Sterling North's “So Dear to My Heart.”

Or, readers can have a go at “Love Poems for the Very Married,” by Lois Wyse.

Helping the humane society: Prize cows and award-winning chickens are a crucial part of fair culture. But you've never seen a chicken look at you soulfully, or a had a cow frolic at your feet.

That why Lakeland Animal Shelter's booth is good for fairgoers. Wednesday's featured pet, a pit bull-mix puppy named Maria, was delighted to see everyone and was willing to give kisses and chew on notebooks. Two gray kittens entertained visitors with frenzied play interrupted by naps in awkward positions.

Sarah Krueger, outreach coordinator for Lakeland, described the fair as a “five-day fundraiser” for the shelter.

It's good for the animals, too.

“We do get quite a few applications for animals, too,” Krueger said.

Mystery judging and amazing kids: 4-H crops projects range from swaths of tobacco leaves to tomatoes and other vegetables.

It might be easy to judge one tomato from another, but how do you tell the difference between one square of hay from another?

James Cudworth was wondering that, too.

“My theory is that they put all the squares in front of the cows and let them pick out their favorite,” Cudworth said.

Instantly, a vision of cow taste-testers arose: A Holstein sniffing contemptuously at a 3-inch thick section of “grass hay, dried.” A Jersey snuffling through a square or a belted Galloway thoughtfully chewing a small corner.

Cudworth and his sister, Christiana, are both in Elkhorn 4-H, but they don't show animals. Christiana's quilt won a purple, grand champion ribbon, and James' replication of a building using 3-D modeling software and a 3-D printer won one, as well.

He started by taking a picture of a building at Wheaton College and then… and then it gets too complicated to explain. But it involves calculating the size of the windows and a variety of other mental gymnastics.

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