Event: Sonoma County Fair

Fair Fun

If you are visiting from out of town, or have moved here from New York City, forget wine tasting this weekend—you don’t know Sonoma County until you’ve been to the Sonoma County Fair! “How quaint,” you might think, mental pinkie raised, but trust me, nothing beats the County Fair to let you know what lies at the heart of this region: hard-working people who just want to have a good time. Even with all the expected elements of livestock, junk food, and carnival rides, you will still find something unique and of aesthetic or experiential value.

The fair is a tactile place, full of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. It’s a place for families, teenagers on dates, and retirees dancing to Motown. Many people come for the music on three or more stages, the horse races, or the carnival rides, while others enjoy the hall of stuff (exhibitors). I go primarily for the flower show.

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Every year, the exhibit hall is transformed into a wonderland of waterfalls, miniature houses, and elaborate displays of color reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, where everything is real (flowers) and not (scale and scope) at the same time. In the past, the themes have included the Wizard of Oz, Jurassic Park, and Alice in Wonderland. This year the theme is Backyard Blossoms, with tiny homes and alternative living spaces. There seemed to be small houses everywhere: real ones to live in, fairy gourd houses, houses in glass bowls, and miniature carved wooden houses.

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Every year there is one central water feature and murals to help set the overall tone. This year, to go with the theme, they have constructed a giant treehouse, complete with a tire swing on the edge of a great pond complete with a girls only sign, a fountain ladder and fog on one side; and a boys only sign and fishing hole on the other. The room is flanked on one side with a mural of the Hobbits’ Shire and garden, and a mountain of flowers with a waterfall on the other.

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Other memorable elements were a red pagoda fountain and a fairy wood, complete with scraggly woods, a rock cairn, giant boulders, ferns, and miniature fairy houses. My personal favorite was the lovely cottage garden, “Country Cottage” which had a nice three-tiered fountain stream, gazebo, miniature house, lovely fuchsia stands, and a thick carpet (almost a pave) of hydrangea and maiden’s hair fern. Other stand-out elements included a wall of succulents and an extravagant use of orchids. (Flowers from the displays go on sale to the public after the fair ends–the plant sale is Monday, August 12th from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)

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Outside the major flower exhibit hall, amateur gardeners give their own impression of the theme, creating mini-gardens bursting with blooms. And in the craft exhibit hall you will find prize-winning flowers grown in local gardens. So if you are looking for the very best zinnia to plant next year, or you want to see your first black sun flower, then look no further.

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The craft hall is also home to an impressive display of quilts made by local quilters. Odd and wonderful things can happen at the fair. I was lucky enough to catch a demonstration of spinning wool into yarn by an impressive group of at least eight local spinners. In addition there were many farm goods and foods on display, demonstrating the bounty of our region.

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Our county is also rich in the tradition of ranching and raising animals. My personal favorite is the bunnies. Who knew there were so many varieties of cute!

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After watching a sheep judging, I met a girl at a concession stand who had competed with her sheep. She was so elated; many of her animals had placed first (and her mother was proud). It reminded me of watching my friends show animals in high school. Watching the kids and teens learn to skillfully handle their animals at a time that they are still awkwardly learning how to negotiate movement and interaction in their own bodies, made me laugh kindly and feel grateful that there is a long and healthy tradition of 4H and Future Farmers of America to help some rural teens grow into responsibility and into themselves. Perhaps this is what the fair shows us, that no matter what our age or interest, it’s okay to be the age we are, and doing the things we love.

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I felt a little guilty eating a gyro (after talking sheep), but as I said, the fair is a complete sensory experience. Along with corn dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, and caramel apples, the fair is ripe with tastes and smells. After a cinnamon bun, it was time to burn off some calories and play Whac-A-Mole! Then prize in hand, head out past the spinning lights of the carnival rides, and return home grateful for a warm bed.

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But this is just my experience; get out there and make your own! Every year the fair is the same and yet different: a wonderland of noises, smells, tastes, and touch. And it is yours to discover, and with it the warm heart of Sonoma County.

By Nadja Masura