Despite the cool weather, the midway, set up at Ross Mountain Adventures on Alabama 9, sounded like any other fair midway.
“Win a cookie, 50 cents,” called a woman trying to lure people to her sweet treat walk.
The Cleburne County High School Tigerettes were spinning their batons and calling out to passersby hoping they would stop and get their faces painted. In the background tunes played by local musicians drifted over the fairgrounds from a stage set up on the hill overlooking the event. Over it all, the bleating of sheep at the livestock show let everyone know this was an agricultural event.
The livestock shows help educate people about where their food comes from, said Gean Harris, a member of the Board of Directors of the Cleburne County Farmer’s Federation.
“It just fosters agriculture,” Harris said.
Indeed, say “county fair” and people think of fried food, stuffed-animal lined game booths, rides, blaring music, but most of all farm goods — from livestock to canned goods to baked goods.
John Ussery, president of the Association of Alabama Fairs Board of Directors, said fairs have often been agricultural- based events. The association has 26 member fairs, all agriculture based, he said. Cleburne County’s new fair is not a member, he said.
“The agricultural fair promotes education in agriculture,” Ussery said.
The association was started in the early 1960s to support and judge agricultural fairs. It still judges its 26 fairs with standards including appearance, cleanliness of animals, agriculture and improvement. It also supports fairs in every way it can. But its funding was lost a few years ago, so financial backing is a thing of the past, Ussery said.
Still, the number of fairs have remained stable over the years, Ussery said.
“Most fairs are a break-even deal,” Ussery said.
The goal, he said, is to get young people excited about agriculture. The Cleburne County Fair did that by giving local youngsters the chance to show their sheep in front of family and friends, some for their very first time.
Lane Ussery, 5 , from Randolph County, was showing his sheep Annabelle. She was named after the Coach in Thomas the Tank Engine, said his father Lee Ussery. Lane Ussery said he also had a pig, but liked Annabelle better.
“I like sheep,” he said.
Austin McCollum, 4, was already an old hand at showing sheep. He joined his sister Cheyenne McCollum, 8, in showing sheep last year, said his father Chris McCollum, from Lineville.
Their father got the children involved in raising and showing sheep because they are smaller and easier to handle than other livestock, and it teaches them responsibility, he said.
Some more experienced sheep displayers were hoping to take home a ribbon. Siblings Seth Gibbs, 15, and Claire Gibbs, 17, have been raising and showing sheep for several years — he for four years and she for seven years. They love handling the sheep, but the ribbons validate the good job they’ve done taking care of them and training them, they said.
“It’s all about how you feed them and take care of them,” Claire Gibbs said. “I enjoy trying to measure that out.”
The fair had more than 80 sheep registered, said Chris Wakefield, who was helping out at the show. The sheep are judged on breed characteristics, on soundness — how well they walk, whether they have any deformities — and the overall health of the animal, Wakefield said.
Tanya Maloney, director of the Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce which organized the fair, said the response to the sheep show was overwhelming and the Chamber will have the livestock shows again.
But this fair is all about Cleburne County, she said. The grassy midway was lined with 40 vendors; all but three or four were Cleburne County vendors, she said.
“I think it’s been a success,” Maloney said. “We’ve had over 1,000 people in and out of here today.”
Local churches and groups have been able to make some money for their causes and local businesses have gained some exposure, she said.
Emily Altman, a member of the Heflin First United Methodist Church, was signing participants up for a greased pig chase. The church was hoping to raise about $450 for their children’s programs with the proceeds. The church was having no problem signing up children in the up to 10 and from 10 to 14 age groups. But adults were harder to entice, even with the prize of a 37-inch flat screen TV.
The winners of contests gone by would have gotten the pig, Altman said.
“We didn’t think anybody would want the pig,” Altman said.
The pigs — actually three piglets grazing on the grass in a pen behind Altman — were blissfully unaware of the hijinks that awaited them. They were also up for sale, though, she added.
Further down the midway, Paula and Chad Smith, owners of Heflin Taekwondo, were selling grilled-cheese doughnuts to help raise money for their students’ demonstration team to travel to competitions.
The food was inspired by a Cincinnati-based restaurant, Tom and Chee, said Chad Smith. The restaurant serves about 70 different grilled cheese sandwiches and this was one of them, he said.
This year’s demonstration team, which was formed last month, was also scheduled to do some demonstrations for the fairgoers, Paula Smith said.
“We try to do as much as we can to get in front of the community,” Paula Smith said. “It’s good practice for the kids to get in front of people and perform.”
Jennifer Dasinger said she thought the fair was a great way to showcase the community. Dasinger and her daughter Whitley, 12, were visiting the Jacksonville State University Field School tent. Whitley Dasinger was taking the opportunity to hold a milk snake.
“They’re really neat creatures,” she said, turning to display the snake.
Her mother declined to hold the snake.
Jake Mathews, reiterated Dasinger’s comments.
“You see all the community here,” Mathews said. “It’s just kind of a fun thing to do.”
Destiny Tumlin, 14, said Saturday was her first visit to a county fair. So far, she liked what she saw, she said, especially the lambs.
“They’re pretty,” Tumlin said.
Her boyfriend, Anthony Robinson, 15, said he was happy the Chamber had resurrected the county fair.
“Now, I ain’t got to go all the way to Tallapoosa,” Robinson said.
Staff Writer Laura Camper 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.