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Erie County Fair to offer interactive mock farm for children

The Erie County Fair is looking for some young farmhands.

The Erie County Agricultural Society, which runs the annual fair, broke ground Thursday on its newest interactive exhibit, Little Hands on the Farm. The free permanent attraction is scheduled to debut Aug. 12, opening day of the 176th Erie County Fair.

Geared toward children ages 2 to 10, the farm will be a 16,000-square-foot mock farm with 10 barns, a garden and a pedal tractor track. Youngsters will receive an apron, basket and pair of gloves at the beginning, then follow a self-guided path from shed to shed learning about different farm commodities.

At the dairy shed, kids will get to milk a fiberglass cow and place an empty carton of milk in their basket. At the sheep barn, they’ll learn about wool. At the grain bin, they’ll fill a seed sack and take it to the tractor lot.

“It teaches kids that farmers produce a product,” said Jessica L. Underberg, agriculture manager and assistant fair manager. “They work to produce that product, then they sell that product and that is how they earn money to invest back into their businesses and feed their families.”

The last stop is the farmers market, where children will sell the goods they’ve collected and earn a token to redeem for a snack such as yogurt, string cheese or fruit in the village’s Tops Market, a sponsor of the attraction.

The interactive exhibit is a trademarked concept found at other fairs across the country, including state fairs in Indiana, Texas and Minnesota, Underberg said. It was during a three-day visit to the Minnesota State Fair several years ago that Underberg said she and her two children first experienced the popular exhibit.

“We went through the process probably five or six different times at their wish,” she said. “They just loved doing it.”

Other fairs report upwards of 400 children per hour passing through the exhibit, Underberg said. “If we even get half that it’ll be a successful project,” she said.

Underberg said the $250,000 farm will be “a nice complement” to the $8 million agriculture education pavilion, state-of-the-art barns and milking parlor that opened last year for the 175th fair. The Little Hands farm will also be open in the fall after the fair for school field trips.

“The kids learn so much by putting their hands on things and doing things,” she said. “They pick up more than we realize.”