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Fair isn’t just a carnival, it’s an educational playground

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “Rowan County Fair?”
Is it cotton candy? Ferris wheel? Candy apples?
Whatever your answer was, I highly doubt it was “education,” but despite the reputation the fair has for just being a big party, there are a number of learning experiences just waiting to be discovered at the fair.
“The fair is more than a carnival coming to town, setting up rides and selling funnel cakes,” said Fair Manager Johnny Love.
“The biggest educational opportunity is in the barn,” he added.
According to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Rowan County is home to about 1,000 farms. Its top crops are soybeans, hay, corn and wheat, and its most popular livestock are chickens and cows.
The fair brings tangible lessons in agriculture to visitors of all ages.
Even the youngest of children can enjoy looking at the animals and learn where food comes from and how it’s produced.
East Rowan’s FFA students set up an “agri-academy,” an interactive exhibit where children can learn about North Carolina’s crops and livestock.
The hands-on activities teach simple concepts such as “eggs come from chickens” and “milk comes from cows,” Love said.
It’s important for children to understand where their food comes from.
“Now most children do their farming at Food Lion,” he joked.
Children can also decorate Christmas ornaments out of the cross-section of a small tree trunk. They’re able to color and stamp the piece of wood as they learn about the growth rings on tree trunks.
In order to be classified as an agricultural fair, there must be a certain number of agriculture exhibits.
Exhibits are set up by a wide variety of state and local businesses, support departments, organizations or farms. They cover a wide variety of topics, including bees, recycling, soil and water and the cooperative extension.
South Rowan High School’s family and consumer science class has an exhibit this year, as well as a number of 4H groups.
Children will also see exhibits for different types of commodities the state produces, such as Christmas trees and vineyards.
“The commodities that come out of our state are really diverse,” Love said.
Walking through the barns is also another form of education, especially for children who grew up in the city with little exposure to livestock.
For some children, fair learning doesn’t stop at the fair.
Hundreds of FFA and 4H students show animals at the Rowan County Fair.
Before arriving, they must learn about their animal and how to take care of it, as well as learn to show the animal.
Sid-Alan Canter, of Bandy’s High School in Catawba County, said he and his fellow FFA members show their cows at fairs all across the state.
He explained that you have to break the cow and teach them to walk and stand the right way to get them ready to be shown.
Immediately before the show, the cows have to be washed and dried and their hooves clipped.
The hardest part, Canter said, is when the cows “get irritated and drag you around.”
Love said the most important part to him about showing animals is the responsibility it teaches the children and teens.
Agriculture is still a key industry in the state of North Carolina and in Rowan County. So, if you make it out for one of the final days of the Rowan County Fair, don’t skip the barns and exhibition hall and go straight to the food and rides. Take some time to explore our county’s agricultural heritage.

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