Ag Fest attracts 20,000 attendees

Weather smiled on the 32nd annual Oregon Ag Fest last weekend and nearly 20,000 children and adults were there to enjoy it.

The goal of the two-day hands-on activity-filled festival at the Oregon State Fairgrounds is to provide a fun educational experience that children — and their parents — where their food and fiber comes from.

In the Ag Country building, kids dug in the dirt for potatoes, made lotion out of sheep lanolin and watched chicks hatch.

In the Livestock pavilion, they watched herd dogs work, sheep sheared and saw and petted most of the farm animals raised in the state.

To round out a complete list of sheep breeds grown in the state, Mary Smallman, director and instructor at the Oregon State University Sheep Center, brought two student staff members, two volunteers and a Polypay ewe and her one-month-old lambs for children to pet.

“The lambs were one of the biggest draws for the kids and adults alike,” Smallman said of her first experience at the FFA-sponsored Ag Fest petting zoo. “We rotated them about every 30 minutes or changed them out when we saw they were getting fidgety.”

Because OSU has a protocol that doesn’t allow an animal that has been petted to return to the sheep center, Smallman donated the sheep to Cascade High School’s FFA “in payment for all the help they gave us during the show.”

“I think my favorite experience over the two days, and one I won’t forget, was the excited little girl who stood up straight and tall and said, ‘That’s a sheep. And when you shear her wool, she’ll be a goat,’” Smallman said. “We answered a lot of questions during the two days.”

Vern Herrick, a farmer in Springfield, Ore., and one of the 800-plus volunteers it takes to run the event, talked fondly about helping children plant the seedlings he and his wife, Paula, grow for the event.

“It is rewarding to be one of the Oregon State Grange volunteers that gets to show kids how to grow things,” Herrick said. “In our booth they chose to plant a flower or a tomato and they get to take it home. As much as I like teaching them how to do it, I like it best when they come back in the following year and proudly tell me how successful they were and how delicious the tomatoes tasted.”