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Northampton ag fair dazzles in return engagement
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
MACHIPONGO, Va. (Oct. 25, 2016) — A push to educate residents about Northampton County agriculture was central in bringing back a county fair that had stopped several years ago.
The one-day Northampton Agricultural County Fair attracted more than 700 people on Oct. 15 to exceed organizers’ expectations of how the event would go.
“We were astounded with the turnout,” said Ursula Deitch, the county’s agriculture agent. “It was great.”
The concept for restarting a county fair got rolling with Elizabeth Dodd, executive director of the county’s Chamber of Commerce.
Dodd said one of the chamber’s main events was a progressive dinner tour in December and after 20 years, they wanted to develop an event connected more closely to agriculture.
“We wanted to educate people, especially kids, on what’s unique to the county,” Dodd said. “The things we produce the most in this county is farming and aquaculture and I don’t think people realize that.”
According to the most recent Census of Agriculture in 2012, Northampton County has 147 farms managing 56,050 acres, which is 41.4 percent of the county’s land.
The county also ranks first in Virginia in sales for winter wheat and aquaculture and is second in vegetables.
Dodd enlisted the help of the Farm Bureau’s young farmer chapter and Deitch and others in the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s Cooperative Extension offices, in planning the contents and attracting sponsors and about 20 educational booths and food vendors for the event.
“We jumped on board as soon as we could,” said Kyle Sturgis, a member of the young farmers group. “We thought it would be a great way to the young farmer name out there and show the community how special agriculture is in the county.”
The core organizers were kids at best when a fair was last held in the county and were ultimately starting over from scratch.
Dodd said from what she’s been told, the previous fair was held at Broadwater Academy in Exmore, Va., and dissolved sometime in the 1980s.
What everyone could agree on was making agriculture at the center of the event.
“This is important because agriculture is a huge part of Northampton County and it’s really great to be able to educate the residents,” Deitch said.
Working with the county, the organizers secured use of the grounds of the former Northampton Middle school, giving them plenty of space for displaying large farm equipment from local dealers and to hold a tractor driving contest and parade of antique tractors.
Other contests included baking and pie eating but two of the more popular contests were in oyster shucking and skillet throwing.
“That was the biggest draw,” Dodd said of the skillet throwing, adding about 20 people entered in men’s and women’s divisions.
Elsewhere on the grounds, kids painted pumpkins, got their face painted, took hayrides, searched the corn box for prizes, touched animals on display and saw a cow milking demonstration.
“We really focused on the educational side and the kids activities,” Deitch said.
With a first-year crowd they were happy with and positive feedback from people who attended the fair, Sturgis said there’s a lot of enthusiasm to keep the fair coming back to Northampton County.
“We’ve already got the wheels moving on things we can do better and what worked and what to do again,” he said.