As winter winds down and we await the promise of green leaves and warm sunshine, the Clay County Fairgrounds start to blossom in anticipation of opening day of the Agricultural Fair.
Starting April 1, the 10-day event will bring spring to life in rural Northeast Florida. Agriculture is at the heart of the fair with livestock and farm equipment exhibitions, a charming tractor-turned-duckslide, a pig race and a rabbit fashion show. Lucky visitors to the Little Red Barn may even see a goat giving birth.
The Early Florida Village is the fair’s “hidden gem,” said General Manager Tasha Hyder. It’s home to a series of exhibits honoring rural culture and local history. An original jail and schoolhouse from Penney Farms are on display, as well as a 100-year-old commissary building. Families from the area sit on the porches of their historic homes, namely the Baxley House, Johns House and Padgett House, to share stories and Southern comfort food with visitors. Demonstrations on logging and syrup-making are set to take place.
The whole fair won’t be quite so pastoral. This year, organizers booked Vanilla Ice and Sir-Mix-A-Lot on top of the traditional lineup of country artists for daily mainstage concerts. The midway boasts 42 rides (more than the Magic Kingdom!), and Folio will host a Star Search competition and Ferris Wheel Speed Dating event.
Last year, the fair was expected to exceed the 130,000-plus attendees they had in 2019. Organizers had a year’s worth of arrangements prepared. Participants had been working on their exhibitions for months. And visitors of all ages were ready for funnel cakes and carnival rides—until it all came crashing down just two weeks before opening day, when the fair’s board of directors decided to cancel the fair for the first time in 34 years due to COVID-19.
But the Clay County Fair is ready to make a safe comeback this year. Strict sanitation protocols for handling livestock were already in place prior to the pandemic and will continue this year, according to Hyder.
In handling livestock, strict sanitation protocols were already in place in previous years, said Hyder. Organizers recommend wearing a mask and social distancing, and will follow current guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.
Entry to the fair is $7 presale and $10 at the door.