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Friday, July 18, 2008

Frederick County Agricultural Fair – Maryland ’s Best in Class?

Jack Lynch

The Great Frederick Fair, our Frederick County agricultural fair, is held in Frederick City , but it's a hundred year old man sitting on its front porch reminiscing fondly on it's past. It may have become our ' Sahara of the Bovine Arts'. (My apologies to the celebrated, and compared to me, much more 'tres facile' wordsmith, Mr. H. L. Mencken of Baltimore .)

Agricultural shows have always been about being the best – so why shouldn't our fair be its best too? It can accomplish that by moving its location and building the best facilities in the state, and expanding its physical area and market reach.

"Harrumph! Young man, how long have you lived here?" I can hear the old man say, from atop his sacred cow. "Don't you know that these fair board members run this county? Why, you're an interloper!"

Forgotten is it's history. The fair began at Creager's Tavern, near the Monocacy River bridge, the famous 'jug bridge', around 1822. A second fairgrounds site was at the Hessian Barracks, now located at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick City . Back then the fiber we lived on was wheat – today its fiber optic cables, biotechnology, health care industries, medical research, and government.

"Hey, old man! I've only been settled here eight years now. But my ancestors were here two hundred and fifty years ago, before your fair existed, and one of them, was a state representative alongside Thomas Johnson, and he built those barracks, by the way."

The various farm associations that sponsored the fair and its grounds evolved based on individual subscribers who put up sums of money towards the cause of promoting agriculture locally. But when was the last time they added a grand new building?

We need to look back to its origins to imagine its future. There are fewer farmers today and fewer farms, but our successful farmers command resources in ways both large and small, such as thousand head herds, and fifty acre organic farms.

Our farm interests are likely as willing today to reinvest in their perpetual showcase as they were back when money was harder to come by from tilling their lands with mule and plow. Beyond the acres of new farm equipment showcased, there is a need for a place that adds innovative techniques in biotechnology, and the new world of small scale organic farming.

The county fair, by remaining in Frederick City , is also a tax drain on citizens. Farmers know prime real estate, of course, it's driving them off their land. One reason to contemplate leaving that location is the value realized by the economic opportunity in selling the land. Another is in creating an economic engine for the City to realize a public-private redevelopment to fund farmland preservation at its borders and create a greenbelt as it develops density internally. Now that's promoting agriculture and engaging City dwellers in the land and its uses beyond concrete creeks.

Third, imagine Frederick City views from a second or third floor terrace apartment or condo – the clustered spires to the west, and airplanes to the north and east. The topography offers subterranean parking possibilities. The linkages to Interstate 70 and the newly connected Monocacy Boulevard will make it central to both downtown and newly developed areas and employment access across town by transit. And we could all enjoy a rooftop restaurant or conference facility enjoying that perspective. Just ride the ferris wheel at the fair this year, and see for yourself.

The old man puts down his tin ear horn, and nods off to sleep again. He seems to mutter under his breath, "darn young whippersnapper! Who does he think he is – Lloyd Culler or Joseph Baker! They're always trying to change things!"

Memory is a funny thing, imagining itself righteous in its own ignorance, like a Model T stuck in the mud at the good ole county fairgrounds, back in its early days.

It's time our Great Frederick Fair made history once again.

Democrat Jack Lynch has announced his intention to run for Mayor of the City of Frederick, Maryland in 2009.

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