GREENWICH, N.Y. -- The Washington County Fair attracts more than 120,000 people annually from Lake George to Albany and Saratoga Springs to Southern Vermont.
For a rural county of 60,000 people, organizers see it as a great way to educate visitors -- many from non-farming backgrounds -- about the value and importance of agriculture in their everyday lives.
That was the theme of Monday's opening ceremonies for this year's 124th annual fair, which continues through Sunday with a an endless array of exhibits, entertainment and more than 2,000 animals from chickens, goats and sheep to milk cows and horses.
"We're rural America," said fair President R. Harry Booth, a former dairyman who now owns beef cattle. "That's what we have to offer. It gives people throughout the whole area, including many urban and suburban residents, a chance to see what agriculture is all about."
The fair provides opportunities in many forms, said Foster Mann, of Easton, 4-H Teen Council vice president.
"It's more than one week," he said. "I got into the 4-H council, a year-round activity, because of the fair and I'm learning things to last a lifetime. That's what the fair is all about; giving people a chance learn new opportunities in agriculture or whatever it is they want to do."
At the Ag Center, visitors may see an actual milking parlor where more than 100 cows per day are milked. A "County Bounty" pavilion features the wide variety of fresh goods and produce that come from Washington County farms and orchards.
A Fair Camp program is specifically designed to help kids from non-farming backgrounds learn about agriculture by touring exhibits, a farm museum and meeting with members of local 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America (FFA). Of course, they also get to have fun on the fair's many carnival rides and by sampling the many types of delicious food on hand.
There are more than 40 daily shows and entertainment from rodeos and monster truck shows to live music performances.
Tuesday is Carnival Fun Day when visitors may ride all midway rides from noon to 11 p.m. at a discounted price; followed by Senior Citizens Day on Wednesday (reduced admission), Children's Day on Thursday (free admission) and Family Fun Day on Sunday when midway rides will again be discounted.
Fair Manager Mark St. Jacques said all animals, including the 600 milk cows on hand, come strictly from Washington County, supporting the event's claim as New York's number one agricultural county fair.
"Kids raise cows to compete," he said. "That's what they bring to the fair -- the best of the best."
St. Jacques' daughter, Renee St. Jacques, led the Opening Ceremony by singing the National Anthem. She will be leaving soon, for a two-year Peace Corps assignment to Cameroon, Africa, where she'll be working on an agricultural support project.
FFA District 3 President Kaylah Gulley, of Greenwich, told how agriculture also involves many non-farming jobs such as veterinary work, feed supply and tractor dealerships.
She was joined by FFA statewide Sentinel Emma Stein of Greenwich, Upper Hudson Maple Producers Queen Rebecca Keyes of Salem, Washington County Dairy Princess Lauren Quick of Granville and alternate Dairy Princesses Bridget Burch of Hartford and Margaret Brownell of Greenwich.
Two area women were named Washington County Fair Moms, after their children submitted videos explaining why their mothers should receive the award. Winners are Donna Marns of Kingsbury and her son, Tanner; and Melanie Wilbur of Easton and her daughter, Jenna.
State Sens. Kathleen Marchione, R-Halfmoon, and Betty Little, R-Glens Falls, and Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, were on hand for opening ceremonies.
For more fair information, log on to www.washingtoncountyfair.com.