Ventura County Fair

by Rachel on August 14, 2011

Proud 4H Kids

The Ventura County Fair 2011

We had a variety of goals in mind when we set out for the Ventura County Fair.  My childhood friend Helen and her nephew were visiting and Helen is the doyenne of homemade jams and jellies having won many prizes at the New Mexico State Fair.  She and I wanted to check out the competition should we decide to enter the Fair next year with our kitchen creations (I’ll keep you posted on how we do).  My sons were with us as well and after two summers living in London paying visits to the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland – they were eager to see American farm animals (complete with birth certificates, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single one of them was eligible to run for President).  And last but not least, no one attends a fair in the United States of America with three pre-teen boys without spending at least two hours on the Midway watching the children shriek as they are flung through the air on various frightful looking metal torture devices masquerading as carnival rides.

A mid-week visit to the Ventura Fair is totally manageable when it comes to crowds.  It’s busy, but not overwhelming and to the Fair organizer’s credit, making one’s way through the ticket booths and ticket takers is a snap.  Last summer in England we spent a dreadful 90 minutes getting into the Farnborough Air Show and I was dreading massive lines combined with slowpoke ticket takers, but found nothing but smooth sailing.  We Americans do excel at logistics and crowd management, unlike many of our European brethren, and I am thankful for it.  The rest of you should be too.  If you aren’t, read a few of my travel blog posts about getting in an out of say, Versailles, or the Hermitage, or the Museum of Natural History in London.

Hungry Sheep

Listen, there's something I need to speak to you about...

A boy and his pig

Once in the gates, we decided that animals, food (not to eat, to look at) and then RIDES were our three priorities, in that order.  While the animals at the Scottish Royal Highland Show are owned and raised by adults, and shown by grown-ups in jackets and ties, the animals at the Ventura County Fair are raised and paraded about by proud teens in 4-H uniforms.  No Highland Goats owned by the Queen but rather sheep and pigs owned by kids from Fillmore.  The vast majority of the rabbits, chickens and cavis were absolutely adorable and there were a handful of pigs that were damn cute as well.  Once we’d had our fill of fab farm animals we made our way to the Home Arts Pavilion.  Competitive jam making is completely absent in British Fairs.  This appears to be a purely American pursuit – perhaps because we are obsessed with competition of any kind.  We just want to be first at everything even if it is simply first at making cinnamon bread.  What disappointed me about the food competition area is that other than having a ribbon pinned to it – one can learn absolutely nothing about any of the submitted foods.  There is no indication of what’s in any particular item, the recipe, or anything else.  This seems an obvious piece of the puzzle that has been left out.  Don’t we all want our chance to make the prize winning banana bread in our own kitchen, or to head right home inspired to make first place jam, or third place pickled corn?  But you can’t, you see.  No recipes are provided.  No little flyers are handed out with a link to a website where one could gaze at one’s leisure at the winners and their recipes.  This seems so obviously overlooked, so clearly necessary, that I wonder why no one has demanded it in the past.

All lined up and ready to party

Pick me, no, pick ME!

First prize!

The other gaping hole in the Ventura County Fair experience also relates to food.  You see, although one whole half of the Fair celebrates homemade baked goods, jams, and jellies, handmade quilts and tea cozies and locally raised pigs, goats, sheep and chickens – locally raised fruits and vegetables are completely absent – and even more disappointing, one cannot buy a single locally produced food item to eat there or take home.  Not a one.  There isn’t a local orange to peel and savor, or a bushel of apricots to take home and can.  No local baker is hawking his or her savory pies, tarts and cookies.  No local beekeeper is selling honey.  No local olive grower is selling olive oil.  Why highlight the local school kids raising a pig and completely leave out all of the hard working farmers in the area raising strawberries, avocados, corn, citrus, etc…?  Ventura County is FULL of farms supplying all sorts of fruits, vegetables and herbs to the California and US market basket.  They certainly deserve their place in the sun (or in this case in the incessant, unrelenting August fog).  Hey – Ventura County Fair organizers, next year let’s see a farmer’s market and a bunch of slots in the mid-section of the fair where local vendors can sell food and drink.  And how about a prize-winning zucchini to go along with that prize-winning pig?  Though many fair attendees want nothing more than to sample Deep Fried Kool Aid, greasy ribs and tepid Budweiser, there are surely some who would prefer a local microbrew (of which there are several), a locally made sandwich with recognizable ingredients and a peach.  I count myself among them.

Fried Zucchini

The always appealing, Fried Cheese Curds

The final stop on our full-day County Fair adventure was The Midway.  Only slightly less rusty looking than the horrid carnival rides we found last summer in Paris (where I believe the locals’ likelihood to sue is slightly lower), the amusement park section of the Ventura County Fair is a body spinning, gut wrenching, brain matter spattering Tour-de-Force just as you’d expect.  The only thing that has changed on these rides in the last 40 years is the quintuple increase in warning signage that peppers the front of each one.  Don’t ride this ride if you’re pregnant, or afraid of heights, or have heart disease or are of sane mind.  Really people, only ride this ride if you’re ten.  Everyone else should run screaming back to the pigs.  Our three lads sampled a large number of the ghastly metal beasts, leaving me wishing I’d brought a Valium or an Ambien or at least an impossible to remove blindfold, since the stress of watching them swing violently this way and that was clearly equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for a year.  I’m certain it took 12 months off my life.  The kids saved the most atrociously awful looking ride for last, and thank goodness for that, since my latter born looked a whiter shade of pale when he disembarked and didn’t regain his color for nearly an hour.  Everyone has a limit.  He discovered his at the Ventura County Fair.

This is all news to me

So, should you go to the Ventura County Fair?  Absolutely.  But take an iron stomach both for the rides and for the meal offerings!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Crocker February 25, 2012 at 9:06 AM

I wonder if you hold jam making competitions throughout the year or if you hold them at any country fairs? if you do please advise me or even if you know of any competitions.
Kind regards
Gary Crocker

Rachel February 25, 2012 at 9:12 AM

Hi Gary: I don’t hold any competitions – I am not associated with the Fair, I attended it and wrote a piece about it. Most County Fairs include jam making competitions and require that the jam was produced IN the County of the Fair. That means you could enter the Fair for your County, not for other Counties. I suggest searching online for details about your County Fair. There will be application materials online and details about when submissions need to be made. GOOD LUCK.
Rachel

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