The Georgia National Fair began in Perry at the National Fairgrounds on Thursday. The Fair is a celebration of all things agriculture in the state of Georgia. The Georgia Department of Agriculture is a key partner for the fair, showcasing its Georgia Grown program with exhibits and events for all ages. More than 500,000 attendees are expected to pour into Perry by the end of next weekend. It’s been named a top 50 Fair in North America and a top 20 event in the Southeast.
The Fair is loaded with rides and food but also, plenty of livestock. There are cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, horses, rabbits and llama exhibitions. 4H clubs and FFA groups from across the Southeast enter their animals to compete against their peers. Most competitions are for fourth through twelfth grade. In the case of the fourth graders showing, sometimes you can just make out a little head standing behind the cow as it towers over its diminutive exhibitor. There are at least ten different types of cows exhibited at the fair, from enormous beefmaster steers to small, fluffy (hair dryers or blowers abound for show preparation) mini Herefords and Maine Anjous.
The livestock highlight on Saturday, besides the numerous mini Herefords, was likely the Legislative Livestock Competition. It’s not often you get to see 10 members of the Georgia legislature take center stage, with a sheep in hand. The House Team was led by Captain Chairman Tom McCall (R- 33 Elberton) and featured Representatives Debbie Buckner (D- 137 Junction City), Carl Gilliard (D- 162 Garden City), Sherri Gilligan (R- 24 Cumming), Tom Kirby (R- 114 Loganville) and Jodi Lott (R- 122 Evans). The Senate Team was led by Captain Chairman John Wilkinson (R- 50 Toccoa) and rounded out by John Albers (R- 56 Alpharetta), Matt Brass (R- 28 Newnan), Steve Gooch (R- 51 Dahlonega), Marty Harbin (R- 16 Tyrone) and Rick Jeffares (R- 17 McDonough).
The House team took home the trophy and will have bragging rights until next year’s event.
Georgia Grown has its own building at the Fair. Georgie, Georgia Grown’s canine mascot, has his own exhibit for kids, explaining the farm to fork journey for many Georgia products. King’s Hawaiian sponsors the Demo Stage and offers daily Georgia Grown Chef demonstrations prepared with Georgia ingredients. Samples are available after each demo – from braised short ribs to Springer Mountain Farms chicken thighs with ginger pear chutney. Stripling’s General Store sponsors the Georgia Grown Pavilion. The Pavilion features products processed or manufactured in Georgia. Products include jams and jellies, sauces, pickles, oils and a wide variety of other artisanal goods made in Georgia.
Another highlight of the Fair is the WRO – a play on the famous PBR (professional bull riding). WRO stands for Wool Riders Only and the show is billed as “Mutton Bustin’.” Kids age 3-6, weighing under 55 pounds are invited to strap on a helmet and protective vest. Climb the gate and drop down into the chute onto the back of a wild and wooly sheep. The announcer opens the gate and a sheep comes sprinting out, both trying to rejoin its flock on the other side of the ring and hopefully buck off the small human clasped on its back.
The Fair runs through next Sunday. Parking is free and admission is a mere $10. If cows are your thing, you missed the majority of the shows this past weekend – next weekend is pig weekend. But there are championship rounds for all livestock and the rides of course will still be going be around (some of them very, very quickly.)