BROOKSVILLE- Just beyond the city signs a tiny patch of brightly colored, blinking bulbs reaching skyward can only mean it’s time for the annual county fair. It’s a week long, springtime gathering of Hernando County locals and it’s been taking place in Brooksville for the past 64 years. The county fair is as american as apple pie and is reminiscent of days past. The local event unfolds just south of town at the Hernando County Fairgrounds and showcases agriculture, local crafts, shows, and food galore.
Historically the purpose of the county fair was rooted in education. In the 19th century, science was focused on effective means of growing food. Schools began integrating agricultural programs into curriculum and organizations such as 4H and Future Farmers of America began cropping up. Franklin Watson of Massachusetts is credited by some with organizing the first fair in the country back in the early 1800’s. The mission was to provide exposition of the best agricultural practices, the best farming equipment, and the latest information. The first American fair gave way to a long standing tradition steeped in American ingenuity. Before the inception of the telephone, internet, and other technology, the county fair served as a major resource for the fundamental development of our nation's agricultural sector. The idea turned into a nationwide movement and today almost every state holds annual county fairs.
This year marks the 64th annual fair for Hernando County. Although the county fair has evolved to include the famous ferris wheel, awe infused shows, bands, and funnel cakes it still carries the original theme of its conception. 4H and FFA clubs prepare for the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show throughout the year. Hernando High School “is the last school standing” among agricultural programs in county schools according to Rick Ahrens, director of the program. Mr. Rick Ahrens has been an outstanding teacher at Hernando HIgh School for the past 24 years. Likewise, he has been involved in the county fair for 24 years and embraces the truth that our future is in children and the young leaders of the Future Farmers of America are afforded hands on life lessons through the program. This year 31 HHS students participated in the Hernando County Fair’s Youth Livestock Show and presented 11 pigs and 3 steer.
All sorts of exciting shows unfolded daily and included trapeze, magic, and comedy genres. Pony rides were offered by long time local Felicia Bass of the Human Animal Life Foundation and the Jolly Ranchers 4H Club hosted a community fair project called the Baby Barn. Susan Stringer, co-leader of the Jolly Ranchers explained that the scheduled petting zoo broke down in Miami, so the Baby Barn was a big hit this year. Their attraction included adorable baby livestock such as goats, piglets, and sheep. Susan Stringer said “Every morning before school the kids come out and take care of feeding and checking on the animals”. The demolition derby and the tractor and truck pull drew big crowds and the greased pig and strongman competition were highlights of the week.
The midway was packed with thrill seekers and boasted the famous ferris wheel and the carousel. Helicopter tours were a big hit and lifted hundreds of locals into the air, likely on their first ever helicopter experience. The aroma of deep fried treats carried through the entire fairgrounds and cotton candy, corn dogs, and elephant ears seemed to grace the hands of everyone.
This year all types of vendors set up in the exhibit halls to display everything from heavy farm equipment to Gideon Bibles. Area schools proudly presented tiny, makeshift galleries of brilliant and creative works of students.
A historical event, a lasting tradition and part of Brooksville’s culture. The Hernando County Fair is a slice of Americana and encourages the growth and sustainability of community.