It’s county fair time again

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake

Fall is my fa­vorite time of year. Last week we took the petu­nias out of the pots on the porch and put in pan­sies for the cooler weather ahead. We’ve been scop­ing out the mums at our fa­vorite road­side stands and farmer’s mar­kets, and pretty soon my kids will start col­lect­ing pump­kins from For­rest Hall Farm, Kasper’s Kas­tle and Bowles Farm.

We make it a point each fall to visit as many of the lo­cal farms as we can fit into our busy sched­ule. This time of year is just ideal for spend­ing a day out­side, traips­ing through the corn maze, go­ing on a hayride and get­ting friendly with the goats and ponies in the pet­ting zoo.

The day pump­kin lat­tes ap­pear in the cof­fee shops is a mag­i­cal day for many peo­ple. It can only mean one thing — fall is just around the cor­ner.

Some­thing else mar­velous hap­pens this time of year and the painted signs pop­ping up all over St. Mary’s County should clue you in. It’s county fair time again.

It sure is fun to walk through all the build­ings and ad­mire the en­tries, from the best straw­berry jam to a pump­kin the size of a boul­der. And who doesn’t love a stuffed ham sand­wich for din­ner and one of those de­li­cious fun­nel cakes for dessert? Of course all the rides and games are a hit with the younger crowd, too.

A few years ago, I was thumb­ing through the fair cat­a­log and came across the page ad­ver­tis­ing the live­stock auc­tion held on Satur­day night. I had never heard of it and was in­trigued. It felt good to buy fruits, veg­eta­bles and eggs from lo­cal farms, why not do the same for meat while sup­port­ing the 4-Hers in our com­mu­nity?

I spent the bet­ter part of Fri­day at the fair check­ing out all the an­i­mals in the live­stock barns. Hon­estly, I couldn’t tell the dif­fer­ence from one steer to the next, but the 4-Hers in the barns were more than happy to an­swer my ques­tions. It was ev­i­dent the an­i­mals were well cared for and healthy. The kids were ex­perts on their live­stock, and the in­for­ma­tional posters on dis­play in the barns pro­vided am­ple in­for­ma­tion about the dif­fer­ent cuts of meat from each kind of an­i­mal.

The live­stock auc­tion is the cul­mi­na­tion of all the ef­fort the 4-Hers have put into rais­ing their an­i­mals over the past year or two. Yes, you read that right, it takes about 18 months to raise a steer to bring to mar­ket. That is a pretty im­pres­sive long-term project.

Bar­bara Dob­bins, the 4-H pro­gram as­sis­tant in Leonard­town, said, “The kids who raise the an­i­mals are ac­tual en­trepreneurs. It’s an en­tire year­long process for the kids to raise their hogs to bring to the auc­tion. It’s al­most two years of hard work be­fore a steer is ready to go to mar­ket.”

Over the course of that time, these kids have cared for the an­i­mals, cal­cu­lated how much feed they’ve pur­chased and how much the an­i­mal has grown, and, once the auc­tion is

over, how much profit they’ve made off the fruits of their la­bor.

Mike Van Ryswick has been a fix­ture in the 4-H barns for the past 12 years. His fam­ily raises Angus cows, pigs, goats, and chick­ens on a 115-acre farm in Med­ley’s Neck. His wife, Mary, was in 4-H her­self and sold the an­i­mals she raised at the St. Mary’s County Fair 4-H Live­stock Auc­tion when she was a young­ster.

Now three of their chil­dren, 16-year-old Mikey, 14-year-old Sara, and 10-year-old Derek are fol­low­ing in their mother’s foot­steps as mem­bers of the Tu­dor Hall 4-H club. This year the kids each have raised the max­i­mum num­ber of hogs al­lowed, 5, so the fam­ily will be bring­ing 15 hogs to the fair­grounds later this week for the auc­tion.

While many of the 4-Hers pur­chase young an­i­mals to raise for mar­ket, the Van Ryswicks rear their own stock on their farm in Med­ley’s Neck. They breed the hogs in Novem­ber, the young are born in March, and by the mid­dle of Septem­ber, the mar­ket hogs should be ready for auc­tion. It takes a 4-Her an en­tire year of plan­ning, prepa­ra­tion and hard work to get a hog ready for mar­ket. That’s an ef­fort every one of those kids should be ex­tremely proud of.

On Satur­day night, I headed over to the fair of­fice and got a bid­ding num­ber and picked a butcher from a list. My sis­terin-law ac­com­pa­nied me to the auc­tion. We’d de­cided to bid on a hog and split the cuts of meat be­tween us.

The bleach­ers in the arena were packed with bid­ders and there was a ner­vous ex­cite­ment in the air. First the smaller an­i­mals, the lambs and goats, were auc­tioned off. Next up were the hogs. I had my num­ber at the ready.

We ended up with a fine look­ing hog that weighed 290 pounds. When the auc­tion ended we headed over to the fair of­fice to square up the bill. We had al­ready picked a butcher from a list so there was noth­ing else to do ex­cept wait for the phone call that the meat was ready for pick up.

We chose the Alvey Brothers in Cle­ments to do the butcher­ing. A sep­a­rate fee is due to the butcher when the meat is picked up. All the cuts were wrapped and la­beled nicely, put into boxes and ready for the freezer.

I won­dered how farm-raised sausage, ba­con and pork chops would dif­fer from store-bought. Would I be able to taste the ex­tra care, bet­ter feed and the fresh air, sun­shine and ex­er­cise this hog most cer­tainly en­joyed daily? The an­swer is a def­i­nite yes. Ev­ery­thing was a cut above, but the sausage was, by far, the tasti­est that ever graced my fork.

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