FONDA - Mother Nature wasn't kind to the Mohawk Valley around this time last year, and memories of the flooding from Tropical Storm Irene are still fresh in the minds of many who look forward to the Fonda Fair as the highlight of the end of summer.
The fair's opening was delayed for just two days as volunteers cleaned up after Irene, but the terrible weather had an effect on the turnout as well as the overall mood at the event.
But the organizers have regrouped and are ready to present a week full of rides, games, food, entertainment and country culture, according to Rich Kennedy, president of the Montgomery County Agricultural Society, which sponsors the fair.
Siblings Rob and Jillian Okosky paint and scrape a building Thursday at the Fonda Fairgrounds in preparation for the fair, which opens Tuesday.
(Photos by Bill Trojan/The Leader-Herald)
The National Weather Service is predicting a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms as the 171st annual fair opens Tuesday, but sunny, mild weather is forecast for the rest of the week.
"We're going back to the basics," Kennedy said, explaining the fair took a financial hit last year after the weather hurt the turnout for the concert by Nashville country singer Kellie Pickler, which was intended to be a major attraction and a moneymaker for the fair. The year before, the fair hosted famous fiddler Charlie Daniels, whose performance drew a huge crowd.
This year's entertainment won't include such big-name acts, but it feature performances by local groups such as country bands Skeeter Creek, All Fired Up and Spike & the Boys and youngsters The Dependents, Beth Zaje and Chelsea Cavanaugh.
This year's events
Here are just a few highlights of this year's fair:
Aug. 28 - Fair opens; judging begins; professional rodeo show at 7 p.m.
Aug. 29 - Discounted admission for seniors until 5 p.m.; Out of Field Tractor Pull at 10 a.m.
Aug. 30 - 4-H?Horse Show begins at 10 a.m.; bicycle giveaway at 5:30 p.m.
Aug. 31 - Baby contest for 1- and 2-year olds at 11 a.m.; Cow-Chip Bingo begins at 4 p.m.
Sept. 1 - Demolition derbies at 1 and 6 p.m.; country music shows by Skeeter Creek at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 - Semi-truck show and pull at 11 a.m.; fireworks at 10 p.m.
Sept. 3 - Fonda Fair Parade begins at noon.
For the full schedule, see http://www.fondafair.com
"We're trying to make sure that we don't spend more than we take in," Kennedy said. "We got a lot of requests from local residents to get some well-known local bands."
Daily admission to the fair will cost $10, or $2 for children ages 6 to 11. Young children and active military personnel will be admitted free. On Labor Day, when the Fonda Fair Parade will take place inside the fairgrounds, admission will be free until noon.
All the revenue goes back to the agricultural society's programs, Kennedy said, noting the fair has come a long way over the generations but it maintains an emphasis on farming and country life.
"It's always a balancing act," he said, between traditional farm-based fair activities and more modern attractions like thrill rides and deep-fried Twinkies.
Kennedy said he sometimes visits local schools to talk with children about agriculture. In years past, when he asked how many children had farmers in their families, he said, half the hands would go up.
"Now, it's only one or two hands," he said. "They think food comes from a grocery store."
Kennedy, who grew up on his family's dairy farm in Palatine, said it's important for the fair to provide a window into the world of agriculture for people who are increasingly disconnected from America's pastoral roots.
At the fair, he said, "people can see where their food comes from."
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties'' 4-H youth programs will have a significant presence at the Fonda Fair this year, as they have for many generations. Judging began this weekend on many 4-H participants' projects and exhibits, and livestock competition will take place throughout the week.
"It's a chance for them to share what they're learning with the public," 4-H Youth Development Program Leader Linda Wegner said.
The fair will show that 4-H is not just about "cows and cooking," she said. Lately, 4-H has put an emphasis on STEM - projects related to science, technology and mathematics.
"4-H is not just for farm kids, and it never has been," Wegner said. "Sometimes we surprise people with all the things we do."
Fulton and Montgomery counties have more than 20 4-H clubs and more than 225 youth participants. Not all are club members; some participate as individuals or families. Not all go to the Fonda Fair, but for many, it's an exciting annual event.
Extension educator Bonnie Peck said one change at this year's fair will be that the 4-H horse show will take place Thursday instead of Tuesday.
"That's probably our biggest animal event at the fair," Peck said. She said about 38 young people will show about 50 horses Thursday. Around 30 young people will show cattle at the fair, she said.
"Our animal numbers are down this year, a little bit, but our number of kids is up," Peck said of the cattle categories. She said the continued interest in showing dairy cattle is encouraging for 4-H - and for the region's dairy industry.
"It shows me the future of the program is still good," she said.
Peck said some local 4-Hers have "top-of-the-line" animals that can be competitive at other events, including the New York State Fair, but most prefer to show their animals here.
"For the majority of them, the Fonda Fair really is the ultimate event of the year," Peck said. "This is their home fair, and it means a lot to them."
Bill Ackerbauer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.