It’s that time of year again — time to smell the popcorn, hear the delighted screams of thrill-seekers on the Tilt-a-Whirl and see the prize farm animals and 4-H exhibits.

Time was, a county fair was the major social event of the year for anyone living outside of a major city. Before everyone owned cars and transportation was cheap and easy, the nation’s rural residents depended on the fun to come to them.

A county fair is a particularly personal, interactive kind of fun, as all residents are allowed to participate in its creation. From the traditional cherry pies, doilies and spring pigs to homemade wine, hand-felted purses and guinea fowl, there is a category almost everyone can compete in.

While many visitors attend a county fair to eat candy apples and ride the rides (with a little extra fear thrown in this year), many more delight in the kind of demonstrations and expositions that are hard to find at any other venue. Examples at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair include pig races, carving with chainsaws and of course the obligatory truck and tractor pull.


Many suburban D.C. residents don’t get much of a chance during the year to encounter sheep, pigs or other farm animals, so the opportunity to pet a goat, milk a cow or sink your fingers into a wooly sheep’s coat is welcome to many.

Although the carnival rides and shows like Monster Truck Madness and the demolition derby cost extra, there’s plenty of free entertainment at the fair.

Besides the opportunity to watch calves being born and baby chicks break out of their eggs, you can see a magician, hypnotist, variety show, jugglers and a raptor exhibition.


Children can enjoy climbing and playing on variety of John Deere tractors as well as fire and rescue vehicles (free plastic fire hats!). In fact, the fair has a whole area dedicated to children which includes a giant checkerboard and a “corn box” — a box filled with corn instead of sand, and supplied with toy trucks like backhoes and bulldozers.

The fair and the county library operate a program that encourages children to read by offering free soda, ice cream and one ride in exchange for reading five books (or having the books read to them).

Once you’ve seen all the needlework and artwork; sampled the honey sticks, fried dough and homemade cheese; ridden a pony, the Tornado or a tractor; watched a show or demonstration and gotten full-on dusty, sweaty and nauseous, you can call it a day and head back to the suburbs.

Until next year!

  • Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, 501 Perry Parkway, Gaithersburg, 10 a.m.-midnight through Saturday, Aug. 19; $12 adults, kids 11 and under free.
  • Prince George’s County Fair, 14900 Pennsylvania Ave, Upper Marlboro, Sept. 7 & 8, 5-10 p.m., Sept. 9, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sept. 10, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; $13 adults, $5 kids and seniors.
  • Arlington County Fair, Thomas Jefferson Community Center, 3501 Second Street South, through Aug. 20, Wed. & Th. 5-10 p.m., Fri. 2-11 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; free admission.

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