Under ideal weather conditions, the 1997 Niagara County Fair Wednesday renewed a 43-year-old tradition of showing and selling the county's farm, commercial, public service craft and even political wares.
Before the fair closes Sunday, thousands of people will have seen an array of farm, workshop and outdoor skills and ideals. And while the fair is aimed primarily at the young, a good share of the exhibitors are adults.
The fair began as usual with the annual Farm-City Breakfast. The egg-and-sausage meal was prepared and served by volunteers. The 900 guests heard Joe Peck, a farmer humorist, joke about farm life while reminding the audience that America's food abundance is owed to farmers and the lands they cultivate. The breakfast was still being served when Cheryl Bish, the 4-H horse program leader, started 40 properly attired riders on a weeklong series of equestrian events with parents very much part of the scene.
While Faye Lanaway, a 95-pound, 12-year-old from Ransomville was preparing to present her 980-pound Morgan Appaloosa cross to Judge Carol Farrell, Faye's mother, Karen, was on her hands and knees underneath Lady Shalimar applying black polish to her hoofs, much like a manicurist would apply nail polish. Her husband, Ivan, an engineer, stood by admiring the scene.
Nearby in the indoor show ring, Mary Marottai of Lockport, another "horse mom," applauded her daughter, Toni, 16, for winning the senior showmanship event, the first of the day. "It keeps Toni off the streets and teaches her a discipline and personal responsibility," she said. "Yes, it's expensive, but my husband, Frank, a computer consultant, and I think it's worth it." The parents last year pledged to pay for the adjacent new stable barn financed with a bank loan.
At the other end of the fairgrounds, Floyd Koerner, a quality control specialist for the 192-member Niagara Milk Cooperative, was standing by while his son, Nicholas, was exhibiting a Jersey heifer and two calves. Known for his strict standards, Koerner laughed when Nate Herendeen, a Cooperative Extension field crops and dairy specialist, remarked that Koerner "probably cracks the whip as much on his son as he does on the dairy farmers he monitors." But Floyd does more: he jumps in and helps farmers with quality problems. "In the last 20 years we have made lots of quality improvements," Herendeen added. Allen Schultz, a retired Harrison Radiator worker from Ransomville, was with his two sons, Jim, 18, and Keith, 14, who were showing their short-horn beef animals. The boys clearly have more on their minds than sports. "I gave them a choice, a pool or a barn," Schultz said. "They chose the barn. Jim said his twin ambitions are to get a good job (air conditioning is his field of study) and show cattle." Two veterinarians were among the first day visitors.
Dr. Ken Gumeauer of Middleport was with his sons who were showing their Simmental beef animals. Why Simmentals," he was challenged. "They give more milk and they grow faster," the veterinarian said. "Look at these twin steers, 13 months old and ready fair market. And that's meat, not fat on those hind ends." Gumeauer with 21 years of practice behind him repeated that bovine growth hormone administered to dairy cows is a useful management tool that can extend a cow's life without harm to people or animals. There's no visible difference between the milk of treated and untreated cows.
In the Conservation tent, Keith Hetrick of Route 104, Hartland, a retired Harrison Radiator employee, said that Niagara County still supports a brisk fur-trapping business. He said that about 75 trappers still take fur bearers during the October to mid-February season. He listed these recent pelt prices: raccoon, $32; coyotes, $30; muskrat, $5 to $10; and gray fox, $25.
Jack Richard of the Niagara Salmon and Angler Club said that fishing in Lake Ontario these days is excellent, but many anglers stay away because of all the health hazard reports. "I fillet the fish I catch," he said.
"I feel safe because I don't eat too many, and most of the PCBs are in the parts that I do not eat. Somebody ought to do something to bring the fishermen back to Lake Ontario."