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Sonoma County Fair evolves with attractions for all

  • Forestville 4H member Heidi Taylor, 15, sprays livestock glue on the legs of her goat in preparation for Wednesday's judging at the Sonoma County Fair. After fluffing the legs the glue makes the legs appear more full for the judges.

The Sonoma County Fair opens for business today, launching a 16-day run likely to bring in more than a quarter-million visitors for what will be its 78th annual season.

In a world dominated by digital reality, the event offers a real- world sensory buffet designed to whet fairgoers’ appetites for food, farm life and the thrills and spills of the carnival.

But the challenge of maintaining relevance even as it preserves the traditional focus on Sonoma County’s agricultural bounty means the fair is still evolving and adding new elements, which, among other things, highlight the public’s growing interest in environmental sustainability, fair personnel said.

A “Greentivities” educational area added to the fair in 2012 is going strong, featuring interactive exhibits on drought-tolerant plants and food production, energy efficiency, water recycling and the like.

New this year, in partnership with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, the fair will offer free valet parking and a $2 discount on admission for those who arrive by bicycle. The “Bike Barn” bicycle check will be located at Brookwood Avenue and Bennett Valley Road. The fair also will host weekly bike rodeos for kids on Tuesdays, featuring safe-riding instruction and bike maintenance help, fair manager Tawny Tesconi said.

There’s even a touch of Burning Man at the county fair this year — a sculpted version of the word LOVE in 12-foot-tall letters created by a Reno artist for display at the annual encampment in the Black Rock Desert. Some fire dancers and other “burners” are expected to help celebrate its exhibition at 8 p.m. today, culminating in a ceremony that will illuminate the sculpture from within.

“In general, we try very, very hard to offer entertainment, education, and attractions for everybody in our community,” Tesconi said. “And we know how diverse the community is.”

The sculpture also melds nicely with this year’s “Peace, Love & Fair” theme, which aims to bring a touch of ’60s psychedelic style to the fairgrounds and, in particular, to the Hall of Flowers, where exhibits feature peace signs, tie-dye and purple haze.

“People are having so much fun with it,” Tesconi said.

But the fair remains largely a place of traditional scenes and smells, where folks can count on repeating experiences from years past, whether it’s cheering on a favored horse competing in Wine Country Racing or watching a youth livestock auction.

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