Delaware State Fair opens gates with precautions

Laura McClements (left) and Cole Olsen, 17, of Pocomoke, MD competing in the junior and open swine show on opening day of the Delaware State Fair Thursday. Olsen won a blue ribbon for his Tamworth pig. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

HARRINGTON — For the last three years, E’mani Taylor has come to the State Fair to feed the giraffe.

Her mother, Brittany, has pictures of the 3-year-old from when she was a baby up, extending carrots to the giraffe, Twiggs, tucked into the carnival tent.

“We came early, before 11, because it was free and there were less people,” Ms. Taylor said.

She, E’mani and her mother Dorothetus Parker were waiting outside the cinnamon roll vendor.

“These are the best,” she noted.

The family, from Harrington, comes to the state fair every year. Living just a short distance from the fairgrounds, it was an easy way to get out of the house for the day — even this year, with the COVID-19 virus impacting large-scale events across the country.

With lead approval from Delaware’s Division of Public Health, the fair opened its gates Thursday and will run through Aug. 1.

The hallmarks of the fair were present: carnival rides, food vendors and livestock. But speckled in were the sights that are becoming more standard: face coverings, handwashing and hand sanitizer stations and markers upon entry designating six -foot distance.

“It’s outdoors so we felt comfortable. There’s plenty of safety precautions,” said Diane Cordani, of Maryland. “We’re not too stressed.”

Megan Fabi, 25, of Felton showing her pig at the Delaware State Fair Thursday.

She and her family attended the fair last year and, before COVID-19 caused restrictions beginning in March, had intended on coming through again. With other events nearby canceled, they were glad to see the fair open.

“There’s a way to do it,” she said. “Others just opted not to take the precautions.”

The family was most looking forward to the carnival, which was slated to open later Thursday, with extra precautions regarding cleaning, mask-wearing and social distancing in place.

Chip Ates, visiting his family in Maryland from Texas, came out to the fair earlier in the day to beat the crowds.

Upon entry, he stopped at the handwashing station and was carrying his own bottle of hand sanitizer. He had two masks, just to be safe.

In the open air, though, he wasn’t too worried.

From the rides, to the food, there were different aspects that brought out the crowd on opening day. For Emily Smallwood, it was certainly the rides. Jen Jackson likes to come by for the animals.

Angie Gooden of Viola trying to herd her entry before the judges in the junior and open swine show.

After Ms. Jackson took Emily, 14, to see the cows, though, Emily was excited about that, too.

“They’re so cute,” she said.

As they walked through one of the barns, Ms. Jackson said that the fair is a tradition.

“It’s something for the family to do,” she said.

It’s a new experience for Emily, who has only been to the fair once or twice before. “I like it,” she said.

Meanwhile, Avery Kerrick, 14, of Greenwood, has been showing cattle since she was 5. Her father, a fifth-generation dairy farmer, has instilled that tradition.

“It’s really just a family thing,” she said. “We’ve been doing it for so long. It’s a fun experience.”

Between growing up in a legacy of dairy farmers, Avery is a part of Future Farmers for America. Through that, she’s seen many “experiences that agriculture can give me. This is my favorite agriculture opportunity.”

She’d been nervous that the fair would be canceled and acknowledged that this year was a little more “chaotic.” With other events canceled, she’s excited to be able to show again.

A sign of the times warning fairgoers to practice recommended sanitizing at the Delaware State Fair.

“Sometimes weird experiences can give you the best learning experiences,” she added.

With cows settled down in the hay, and pigs snoozingin the shade of the barns, this year’s fair felt like it was boiled down to what it was initially meant to be about: animals, said Mandi Tierney.

While there were some nerves about it at first, she and Rachel Hickerson, both of Milford, were glad to see it happen.

“It’s more focused on the animals, the kids learning and agriculture,” she said. “And it’s not busy with crowds. I’m glad they had it.”

In the shade of the carnival tent, she and Ms. Hickerson helped Ms. Hickerson’s son, Blake Jr., 4, feed the giraffe.

The giraffe, Blake said, was one of his favorite parts. “And I like feeding the donkeys, and I also like feeding the little donkeys.”

“I’m grateful it happened,” Ms. Hickerson added. “I don’t think people should be afraid. Don’t give up the tradition.”

The tradition of the 101-year-old fair was Ms. Tierney’s favorite part.

“We grew up in Delaware. We get to share this with our kids now and reminisce on our memories,” she said.