State Fair

Skies clear for opening of Kansas State Fair: 3 vignettes

Typical Kansas State Fair attendees roam the grounds on Friday morning. The fair runs through Sept. 18.
Typical Kansas State Fair attendees roam the grounds on Friday morning. The fair runs through Sept. 18. The Wichita Eagle

As do so many things in Kansas, the annual State Fair started with a prayer.

“Heavenly Father, we pray that the rains would stay away and that there would be good weather,” said Michael Gray, pastor at Sterling’s CrossPoint Church. “Pour your love and mercy on this fair.”

His prayers were answered — at least through mid-day Friday — as clear skies and temperatures in the 80s blessed the first morning and afternoon of the 2016 Kansas State Fair.

The first performance of “Jump! The Ultimate Dog Show” drew overflow crowds as people gathered to watch dogs perform gravity-defying stunts, catching Frisbees and other such items.

Much of the activity early in the day Friday revolved around livestock competitions — horses, swine, goats and other animals.

New life in the Birthing Center

A big draw Friday was the Birthing Center, where a mother pig gave birth to eight healthy piglets around 4 a.m.

Another pig in the Birthing Center is expected to give birth within the next few days.

Children gathered around to watch as the little pink piglets scampered over each other to get a swig of their mother’s milk. They laughed at the piglets, all of whom still had tiny umbilical cords attached.

Dan Thomson, who oversees the Birthing Center, hopes the kids will grow up with an appreciation of agriculture and livestock.

Whether you’re involved with agriculture or not involved with agriculture, it’s about becoming each other’s neighbors, understanding we all have similar issues, similar joys and concerns in life.

Dan Thomson, Jones Professor of Production Medicine at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine

“Whether you’re involved with agriculture or not involved with agriculture, it’s about becoming each other’s neighbors, understanding we all have similar issues, similar joys and concerns in life,” said Thomson, Jones Professor of Production Medicine at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“This is where they’re born, and then people can go to the shows to see how they’re raised and how they grow, then they can see a live demonstration of how mature cows are milked.”

Thomson said “98 percent of Americans aren’t around farm animals.” The state fair, he said, helps people “pull their heads out of their iPhones” and meet the people living in the state that do work with livestock daily.

“Really what we’re trying to show is how farm animals are produced, how we raise them, their natural setting, and just connect people with ag,” he said.

New butter sculptor

There’s a new hand carving the fair’s famous butter sculpture this year, though she’s certainly not new to butter carving.

Sarah Pratt, who most recently carved the butter cow for the Iowa State Fair in August, is carving the cow and related sculptures — a boy and a cat — at the fair, likely through Saturday.

The 39-year-old Pratt first started sculpting butter when she was 14 years old, she said. After discovering a passion for the work, she trained under famous butter sculptor Norma “Duffy” Lyon — the first sculptor to bring a butter cow to the Kansas State Fair in 1983.

The fair’s previous butter sculptor, Sharon BuMann, retired after last year’s fair.

BuMann liked to keep her sculptures under wraps until they were completed; Pratt, though, enjoys working in front of people.

I’m traditionally a very shy person, but I’ve learned that that’s part of sharing the tradition of butter-sculpting and the butter cow is being able to talk about it.

Sarah Pratt, butter sculptor at the Kansas State Fair

“I like sharing the tradition with other people,” Pratt said. “I’m traditionally a very shy person, but I’ve learned that that’s part of sharing the tradition of butter-sculpting and the butter cow is being able to talk about it.”

The butter used in the sculpture is recycled from previous butter cow sculptures, and when this year’s fair is over, the butter will be scraped off and used again next year.

“The older the butter, the more and more claylike it becomes,” she said. “You add it onto an armature, just like a clay sculpture, and you can model or change it. It’s really a great medium.”

Big pumpkins are serious business

Late Thursday evening, the winner of the largest pumpkin competition was crowned — Tony Prochaska of Beloit, with a pumpkin weighing 611 pounds. His 5-year-old son, Jacob, took third place with a 523.5-pound pumpkin.

Prochaska, 55, said he has been gardening all his life, but started growing big pumpkins in the last three years.

The largest pumpkin in Kansas State Fair history came in 2015, when Donovan Mader of Garden City brought in a whopping 1,034-pound pumpkin.

“It’s probably the hardest vegetable there is to grow, these giant pumpkins,” he said. “You’ve got to water, the insects really like them, you’ve got diseases, and a lot has to do with the weather.”

Prochaska almost gave up on his pumpkin after a hailstorm appeared to destroy the pumpkins, he said — last year, all of his large pumpkins died (though he did win the largest watermelon prize). He said he grows pumpkins for “the bragging rights,” and the prize money — the contest is sponsored by AARP.

The 611-pound pumpkin is well short of last year’s record-setting pumpkin, a 1,034-pound monster grown by Donovan Mader of Garden City.

The biggest pumpkin in the Pride of Kansas Building this year is not Prochaska’s — it’s Mader’s.

Mader is selling seeds from his huge pumpkin that won last year — $7 for three seeds — and brought a roughly 900-pound pumpkin to display at his booth, he said. Because it was at his booth, fair officials wouldn’t let him enter it in the official competition, he said.

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt

Highlights on the Fair schedule Saturday

Going to the Kansas State Fair on Saturday? Here are a couple of the highlights:

▪ 11 a.m., WIBW live debate: Topeka radio station WIBW is sponsoring a forum with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, chairmen of the Senate and House agriculture committees, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Bretz and Young Injury Lawyers Arena, in the center of the fairgrounds (Cottonwood Avenue and Fort Leavenworth Boulevard).

▪ 1 p.m., beard and mustache competition: Watch as the top 10 beard and mustache contestants are selected. Participants had to pre-register, so you can’t just show up and participate. Nex-Tech Wireless Free Stage at Lake Talbott (northwest portion of the fairgrounds).

▪ 3 p.m., celebrity grape stomp: Watch Kansas and agricultural leaders compete for the title of “Kansas Grape Stomper 2016,” celebrating the grape and wine industries in Kansas. Nex-Tech Wireless Free Stage at Lake Talbott (northwest portion of the fairgrounds).

▪ 7 p.m., mutton bustin’ championship: Mutton bustin’, for those who may not know, is a humorous competition that’s essentially rodeo for kids. Children grab onto sheep and see how long they can ride them before they fall off. The mutton bustin’, which will be inside the Expo Center (on the far southeast corner of the fairgrounds), is a guaranteed laugh.

For a full schedule, visit www.kansasstatefair.com.

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