The 2016 Faulkner County Fair is officially underway, and following Tuesday’s downtown parade at 5 p.m., the midway and indoor exhibits will open to the public at the Conway Expo Center on East Oak Street.
Animals already have taken up residence in the show barn, and more breeds will arrive Tuesday. Dairy goats were the first to round the ring on Monday.
All home economics entries, which include sewing, food, floriculture, photography, etc., were judged Monday, and after the parade, participants and the public will have the first glance of blue ribbons and honors.
Faulkner County Fair Board Chairman David Henze was busy at the fairgrounds Monday, doing everything from organizing the placement of the midway rides to hunting down someone to fix small hiccups here and there.
Two exhibits returning to the fair this year are the Arkansas Art Center’s Art Mobile, which Henze said was a huge draw during its last visit to the Faulkner County Fair in 2014.
"I had someone keep count of how many people went through there, and just about as many people went through the mobile when it was here, as went through it at the State Fair in 2013," he said.
The Art Mobile will be located on the midway and will serve as an art gallery, displaying a collection of works from the Art Center. This year’s collection has not been announced.
Also returning this year to the indoor hall is the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Scales of Justice exhibit, which features taxidermied animals that have been poached throughout the state. The AGFC uses the educational exhibit as a way to recruit prospective AGFC law enforcement personnel, but Henze said it always is a hit with fairgoers.
The county fair is a large-scale production, welcoming tens of thousands over the week.
"I think it’s targeted to different people," Henze said. "Some people live for the fair food and the fair rides. Other people could care less about that and they want to see the animals. Other people like to see the arts and crafts or consumer sciences side. Other people want to see the commercial exhibits. To me, we have something for different interests."
But the primary purpose of the fair is to highlight the hard work of young people in 4-H clubs and FFA chapters countywide, he said.
"The main reason we have the fair is for these kids out here showing the livestock," Henze said. "Everything we do helps support that. It’s interesting to watch the animals and watch the kids and the effort they put into showing those animals.
"The concentration, the determination is the same out here in the show ring as it is out there on the basketball court or the baseball diamond or the football field or soccer — whatever the case may be."
Putting on a fair the size of the one in Faulkner County is not done in a day, and it certainly isn’t cheap. Aside from having monthly meetings year-round, attending conferences and visiting other county fairs to swap ideas, the fair board is responsible for the legacy of the 78-year tradition.
"[The fair board] ends up paying somewhere between $45,000-$55,000, whether anybody shows up out here or not," Henze said. "The money is used for things like security, sanitation and especially prize money for the kids. We have to put money back in case we have a bad year and we can keep the fair going. We have to be good stewards of the money."
Education is important, too, organizers agree.
On Friday of fair week every year, preschoolers are invited from 9-11 a.m. to view show animals, ask questions of presenters and learn more about what livestock animals provide consumers.
For the past two years, the fair board has provided banners at the show barn that highlight each livestock contest and serve as aids for those wanting to know more about the show and judging criteria.
The Faulkner County Extension Office provides structure for the exhibitors and participants, provides volunteers for judging and exhibit set up and keeps up with entries and results from all contests.
The 2016 fair boasts more than 3,500 entries from all over the county.
"It’s not possible without all the great volunteer manpower," said Kami Marsh, agriculture extension agent. "They are really who make the fair fun, and not like work at all."