Future of farming evident at Delaware State Fair

Among the most colorful FFA entries are bell peppers. FFA and 4-H entries are on display in the Centre. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

HARRINGTON ­— Move away from the flashing lights and raucous carnival and stage shows and you’ll see, hear and smell the heart of the Delaware State Fair.

There is the laughter of a young child making a “snow angel” in a golden bed of corn.

Nearby, you’ll hear the baa of sheep to newcomers of its own kind and guests in the Kent Building.

A little farther away, you’ll hearing roosters crowing and the aww of a parent watching a child hold a fuzzy yellow chick.

There are rows and rows of vegetables, and nothing seems to gleam more than those red and orange bell peppers — except for maybe the John Deere tractors.

All around, there are blue, red and white ribbons — rewards so many young people will reap during this 10-day fair.

“The fair really does give us a great opportunity to showcase the talents and skills of all the people that are involved in agriculture,” said Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse.

“But the fair does a lot more than that. It gives consumers an opportunity to come and learn about agriculture, whether it’s with the 4-H or FFA building up there, the Department of Agriculture building, or just walking through the barns. It gives them a better understanding of where their food comes from.”

The Delaware State Fair, now in its 99th year, has kept its rural charm.

Mr. Scuse has seen it evolve over the decades and appreciates the modern buildings that house more than 3,000 animals.

“When I was 12 or 13, I used to sleep in the cow barn on some bails of straw, so I have seen some changes,” he said.

The sleeping accommodations are much better for Mr. Scuse nowadays. He is there for all 10 days, enjoying nights in a motor coach.

“I pretty much grew up here at the fair,” he said. “I now have granddaughters that will be showing animals, one with a pig this weekend and the other with goats. It’s really a great experience for the young people.”

“The fair really does get that next generation involved.”

It isn’t all fun and games for the kids, either.

With its chicken and sides, the Grange, a popular fair dining area near the grandstand, offers a true Delaware agricultural meal. Readers of the Delaware State News hopefully will remember to bring a coupon from one of our recent Delaware State Fair sections. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

“It does teach them a tremendous amount of responsibility,” said Mr. Scuse. “From feeding the animals to training the animals, you have still got to spend a lot of time with them in order to show them.

“My 6-year-old granddaughter, she spent time learning to show her pig. The other night we called and she was out with a pair of clippers, trimming her pig up and getting it ready for the fair.”

You can go through the cement-floored barns and see sheep, goats, swine, and cattle. Kids from all over Delaware are showing animals and the number involved just isn’t dropping off.

“It’s so exciting to me to see all these young people involved in our ag programs, in our high schools and in our middle schools, and here at the state fair,” Mr. Scuse said. “If you look, in the last few years, we’re experiencing record numbers of livestock entries here at the state fair. The interest is there and what I believe to be at an all-time high.

“Fortunately the fair took the initiative to build first-class facilities so that the young people can showcase the animals.”

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With modern farming changing so much, Mr. Scuse touts the agricultural programs in Delaware’s high schools and middle schools.

“I think we’re unique in that we have such a high percentage of our high schools and middle schools with agriculture programs,” he said. “There are now 12 or 13 middle school programs in Delaware. That’s unheard of in most of the states around the country.

“The ag programs are really attracting some of our best and our brightest. When you look at the changes that we’ve experienced in agriculture over the last decade or 15 years, with all the advances in technology, biotech products, use of drones, autonomous tractors and combines, its really going to take our very best, our very brightest to continue working in agriculture and make the advancement to feed a growing world population.”

The Junior Livestock Auction, set for Thursday, is a showcase event for young people raising livestock. In this photo taken last year, Cameren Scaffedi, left, had the grand prize pig. Caroline Palmer holds the banner and Justin Palmer helps with the swine. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Mr. Scuse said farmland is disappearing all across the country. That puts even greater demands on farmers to produce more on fewer acres.

“Fortunately, we have a great ag land preservation program here in Delaware,” he said. “We’ve got 25 percent of ag land protected and preserved, but there is still going to be development pressure here and across the country.”

To illustrate his point about needing bright minds in the field in the future, he said projections show that there will be 9.5 billion people in the year 2050. “And we’re going to have to increase food production by at least 70 percent,” he said.

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The fair seems to have more locally produced foods than ever, too.

“That’s something that has really taken off,” said Mr. Scuse.

There is the traditional chicken dinners at the Grange, Kirby and Holloway scrapple sandwiches, and the relatively new Vanderwende’s ice cream.

But, you’ll also see all the oddities – like an octopus taco – and temptations like deep-fried Oreos or funnel cake.

“The food choices here really have expanded through the years,” said Mr. Scuse. “I don’t care if you’re into junk food or healthy food, there’s something for everyone here at the Delaware State Fair.”

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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