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Albemarle County Fair brings the future of farming to a historic setting

A spotless white cow, a cabbage bigger than a basketball, 13 different shades of eggs, pigs and sheep galore: The Albemarle County Fair returned this past weekend for another year of livestock shows, produce contests and a celebration of the farm community in Albemarle and surrounding counties.

“We’re supporting the future of agriculture in Albemarle County and the families who are around today to take care of the land,” Kaitlin Lundquist, 4-H youth development agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension, told The Daily Progress on Friday. The 4-H is a a program administered by Lundquist’s group to teach children skills in agriculture, leadership and STEM — that is science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

At the fair, which lasted Thursday through Saturday at James Monroe’s Highland, kids from the 4-H program presented pigs, sheep, poultry and cattle. In projects where they also document expenses and time costs, the “4-H-ers” are learning “the business side” of agriculture, Lundquist said.

“Farming is not only a source of food for people, but a source of income,” she said. “It’s a great learning opportunity for these kids.”

Molly Abell, a rising 10th-grader, showed a wether lamb in the market class and senior showmanship class, while Aubrey Ford, also in 10th grade, took first place with an ewe in the senior showmanship class.

Abell has been in 4-H for four years and has grown up on a farm. She wants to be a large animal veterinarian when she finishes with school. The profits she makes from selling a halter at auction will help her pay for a truck: “an old square-body Chevy.”

Live music, beehive demonstrations and fire engines on display delighted crowds outdoors, while a home arts exhibition was put on in Highland’s climate-controlled barn.

The exhibition was a chance for people to present homegrown produce and homemade products: vegetables, tomatoes, pies, artwork and quilts. Inside, a best-in-show garden bounty basket boasted celery and eucalyptus among 10 other types of plump, colorful vegetables, and blue-ribbon-winning, bright flowers yawned from glass vases.

But the “star of the show” is the livestock outside, Jason Woodle, marketing and events manager at Highland, told The Daily Progress. The show and sale has seen plenty of cattle, pigs, goats and sheep bred and raised carefully. Highlights of the show were a white turkey and a white heifer, a “beautiful and friendly” creature, Woodle said.

Ahead of their auction on Saturday, the poultry competition took place Thursday evening and ribbons were handed out to the remaining livestock Friday.

The Albemarle County Fair began in 1982 and typically draws 30,000 people every year, according to organizers. Highland has hosted the fair for almost a decade, a partnership that is both affordable for the fair and valuable for the historically agricultural site.

The staff at Highland sees themselves as teachers and educators, Woodle said, and the Albemarle County Fair is another opportunity to educate the community on historical and modern agricultural practices. That includes a wool-spinning and weaving demonstration from the Central Virginia Fiberarts Guild as well as a demonstration on traditional blacksmithing.

Highland has been a working agricultural site for several centuries, Woodle said. While the former residence of a Founding Father, recent interpretations of the site’s history has been reoriented to also focus on the contributions of enslaved men, women and children working on the plantation.

“There’s a precedent to the modern look at the landscape here through the lens of agriculture, and we can do it through the historical lens as well,” Woodle said.

Lidija Westfall, a rising junior from Fluvanna County showing poultry and sheep at the fair on Friday, said she learned to breed and raise her animals from her own research, having grown up in metropolitan Chile.

“I didn’t really expect rural America to be the way that it is,” Westfall, a member of Fluvanna County 4-H, told The Daily Progress Friday. “There’s so many things you don’t realize go on behind the scenes. You see a chicken at the grocery store, and you don’t think of the life it had, all the work that goes into it, all the feed it consumed.”

“Through raising animals, I understand how the system works and I can also be more aware of what I’m eating,” Westfall continued.

Watching four 4-H-ers present their hogs to a judge Friday evening, Lundquist said she thinks the fair is a wonderful way to show support for agriculture in the county.

“Albemarle is great because it’s a good mix. Charlottesville is pretty urban, but there are plenty of farming families in the outer county too,” Lundquist said. “The Albemarle County Fair is a great spot for the mingling of demographics in the county.”


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