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Food donation admission brings crowds to opening of Erie County Fair

You can add cans to the attractions at the Erie County Fair this year.

That’s in addition to the cows, the chickens, the rabbits, reindeer, the rides, the music, the deep-fried Gummy bears, bacon bomb, demolition derby, Ramblin’ Lou and even Nik Wallenda next week.

Thousands of cans of food were donated Wednesday at the fair’s kickoff. Admission was $2 on the opening day, or it was free with a donation of food.

“It’s awesome,” said Jennifer Kurzdorfer, marketing and development director for the Food Bank of Western New York. “We know the community is generous. The fact that people are giving more than $2 worth of canned goods, and it only costs $2 to get in here, it sends chills up my spine.”

Many of those donating food at the fair would have been there anyway Wednesday afternoon, like Chris Sullivan and Tamera Beitz of Batavia, who brought their children, Trent, 9, and Kaydin, 4.

“It’s a good cause. It’s always good to donate,” Sullivan said.

“It’s good that we don’t have to pay,” said Lara Husman of Holland, who brought her four children. “It’s nice you can give back, and get in. At least you’re helping someone out.”

It’s an opportunity for the fair to give back to its guests, who sometimes feel the fair experience can get expensive, said Manager Dennis R. Lang.

“Ultimately, when it’s all said and done, we’ve been very fortunate here. We’re giving back to the community, but ultimately the people who need it in Western New York are going to be recipient of it,” he said.

Those who bring a can to donate Saturday will get $5 off an unlimited ride wristband, and those who come Sunday with a food donation will get $5 off the admission price. The fair will be collecting nonperishable food every day at the gates.

April Cummings of Boston and her children, Rebekkah, 13, Michael, 10, and Roman, 9, were planning on going to the fair Wednesday. “Then we found out about the donations. We thought we would take advantage of that,” she said. The family brought a stack of cans to donate.

Michael likes the rides, food and games. Roman had other hopes for what he wants to see.

“Hopefully the monkeys,” he said.

“There’s no monkeys here,” his family told him.

“Do they have any foxes here?” Roman asked.

How about cows, Roman?

Eric Shuknecht of Elba is hoping his 3-year-old cow, Ms. Atwood Madison, will win some ribbons. She is the grand champion of the Genesee County Fair, and at 1,500 to 1,600 pounds, a lot bigger than a fox.

“It’s a passion of ours,” says Shuknecht. We love to come here and be a participant, be a part of the fair, see the magnitude of what the Erie County Fair actually is. The fair goes on and on and on, and it’s huge.”

He and his family have seven cows in Barn No. 7. Shuknecht, 24, who has been coming to the fair since he was 12, will sleep and eat in the barn during the fair. He brought a cot and a sleeping bag. When he was younger, he used to like sleeping on hay bales.

“When I was younger, sleeping on the hay bale was more fun. As you get older, you use a cot because it’s a little more comfortable,” he said.

He’s got an electric skillet for meals, and plans breakfast sandwiches and home fries for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and he could make goulash or chicken marsala for dinner.

“Our main thing we do is cheesy ham and noodles,” he said. “…One night during the week we go get a chicken barbecue.”

Fairgoers will find a larger food court this year. There’s also a new bathroom, first aid building and several barns, four acres of paved area, and more than 2,000 feet of power lines have been moved underground.

And on Aug. 19, hours after the fair ends, demolition will start on the Agsperience barn, the concrete block dairy barn and milking parlor barn to make way for a 60,000-square-foot agriculture discovery center.

The new building, which is estimated to cost about $8 million, is to be done in time for next year’s 175th county fair.

The gates are open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Aug. 18.