LOCKPORT – Organizers want the Niagara County Fair to be more than just a good time, although that’s high on their priority list.
This year, the fair will offer more activities than ever aimed at promoting the importance of local agriculture and local food production.
The event, organized by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County, runs from Wednesday through next Sunday at the fairgrounds, 4487 Lake Ave., Lockport.
Cornell Cooperative Extension Executive Director Cathy Lovejoy Maloney, who is in the driver’s seat for the sixth year, said the fair will offer a separate tent called the “Agriculture Discovery Zone.”
Partially funded by a grant from the state Division of Agriculture and Markets, the display illustrates for fairgoers that food isn’t created at the supermarket.
Maloney said the fair “has always been supportive of our local agriculture, and that hasn’t changed, but we’re really establishing a food cycle approach.”
That means an illustration of the entire food process from seed to waste – and a program to help reduce food waste.
Margaret Lapp, a Cooperative Extension employee in the state-funded “Creating Healthy Places” program, said the fair will tout a program to keep produce from being wasted at farm markets or on farms themselves.
The idea is to “rescue” food that would be thrown out at the end of the day at a market, or to gather food that never reaches a point of sale for one reason or another.
In cooperation with the Food Bank of Western New York, the Niagara Community Action Program and area farmers, the food that otherwise might end up spoiling is taken to those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
The “Plentiful Partnership,” as Lapp called it, aims to reduce the county “food insecurity rate,” which she placed at 17.2 percent. That’s the percentage of the county population that can’t get fresh local food for reasons ranging from a lack of transportation to stores near their homes that don’t carry such items.
“There are food deserts in Niagara Falls,” Lapp said.
The Agriculture Discovery Zone will include information on how to grow one’s own food, even in an area as small as an apartment.
“Our demonstration garden is a good way for anyone visiting the fairgrounds to learn how to grow their own food,” Lapp said.
Also, it will feature the “gleaning table,” with information about how to help with the Plentiful Partnership and :get their heads wrapped around this concept.”
Maloney said there seems to be more buzz about the fair this year than in the past, for uncertain reasons. She predicted that, given decent weather, last year’s record five-day attendance of 33,000, which was a 20 percent jump from 2012, will be exceeded.
“We’re full to capacity on vendors, which we haven’t been in several years,” Maloney said.
And some of the hit attractions added to the fair’s lineup in recent years will be back, such as the firemen’s parade on Saturday afternoon.
Revived last year after many years off the agenda, the parade is set for 4 p.m., heading from the staging area on the grounds of Wyndham Lawn Home for Children, up Lake Avenue and onto the fairgrounds.
“We hope it might grow a little bit, because it’s really popular,” Maloney said.
Because of the parade, Lake Avenue will be closed for about half an hour, starting a few minutes before the parade.
Also, the parade means that the only two driveways on and off the fairgrounds will be closed for the duration of the parade, so those who want to come to the fair during the same period will have to wait until the parade is over, and those who might be looking to leave during that roughly 30-minute period aren’t going anywhere.
Maloney said there are ways around that in case of a serious emergency.
The live butterfly exhibit in the Merchants Building costs $1 extra, but it was a hit last year, and Maloney said it will be open daily.
Also shown daily will be artists making balloon sculptures with agricultural themes.
A show by adopted rescued dogs was a success in 2013, and Maloney promised “a little bit more of an athletic show this year.”
From Thursday through Saturday, a chain-saw artist will be making wood carvings. “That’s something we haven’t had at the fair before,” she said.
The beer tent will be open again, Friday and Saturday nights. Also, the entertainment lineup includes 15 live bands during the five days of the fair, with styles ranging from rock to country to swing.
The perennial standbys of the fair aren’t being ignored. The animal judging, the 4-H milk bar, the midway opening at noon daily, the antique tractor parade on Wednesday night, the mighty chicken barbecue with the secret Cornell sauce on Thursday, the Friday night livestock auction, the Sunday crowning of 4-H royalty at the closing ceremony – all are back as usual.
But the annual kickoff event is seeing a change. The Farm-City Breakfast at 8 a.m. Wednesday will not have a guest speaker.
Maloney said the evidence is in, and the conclusion is, people look to the breakfast as a chance to socialize, not to hear a speech.
“We found that for having a speaker, particularly if it’s a serious subject, people don’t have the patience,” Maloney said. “Sometimes you fight it. I’m thinking, ‘Why are we fighting this?’ We did have an agricultural speaker last year. You have to have a thick skin. It’s tough on the speaker.”
Admission this year has been increased to $4, up a dollar from last year, but on Sunday, all admissions will be $2. Children under age 6 get in free every day, and there is no charge to park.
“We have to remain mindful that some people are still struggling,” Maloney said. Although costs are rising, she said the fair, especially on Sunday, remains a great bargain.
“You can’t go to many things for $2,” she said.
The theme this year, “A Good Thing Growing – Celebrating Niagara County Agriculture,” tells the tale.
The Niagara County Fair makes no effort to compete with the Erie County Fair. “It isn’t a huge fair. It’s never going to be like Erie County, and we wouldn’t want it to be,” Maloney said. “I think it’s a beautiful balance of a fun event with an educational component.”