WOODLAND — At opening night of the Yolo County Fair on Wednesday, a Davis agriculture teacher introduced her twin sons to a steer, an 8-year-old won a fish and an antique engine owner recounted how he learned he was meant to be a farm mechanic.
As the fair buildings opened to the public for the first time, the Yolo County Bounty Gala gave visitors the first glimpse of the fair’s agriculture and horticulture exhibits while they sampled local food, including tomatoes, peaches, olive oils and wines. People from across Yolo County shared their produce, including David Neilson, who sells blueberries at the Davis Farmers Market.
“We’re from Yolo County and this is supposed to be a taste of Yolo County, so we thought we would give them a taste of blueberries,” Neilson said. He offered visitors samples of a blueberry sorbet created by Devine Gelateria, a Sacramento-based gelateria and café that regularly buys his blueberries.
“Our season is over so this is the only way we could think to share our blueberries with everyone,” he said.
“I’ve bought boxes of your stuff at the Co-op,” a visitor said as she tasted the Italian sorbet that Devine Gelateria likes to call a “sorbetto.”
Next to a table that served skewers of olives, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, Davisites Kevin and Chris Blackman reflected on why they love this fair.
“I know what his favorite part about the fair is,” Chris Blackman said.
“— cold beer,” Kevin Blackman said in a stage whisper.
“— the food,” his wife said.
Gala attendees were entertained by local musicians, including Tim Pulley, Clarence Van Hook & Friends, Kally Pile and Phillip Lovejoy of Four Barrel, and Ericka Davis of Kiss ’N Tell Band.
“I sing here every year. This is my fair,” said Davis, a Woodland native who works in the food science and technology department at UC Davis. She will be singing in the Yolo Idol contest on the West Stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and performing with her band on the same stage at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“I love the little kids,” she said. “I love to inspire little kids so they can all be little rock stars when they grow up.”
In the livestock area, Jenni Pareas, a teacher at Pioneer Elementary School, introduced her twin 3 1/2-year-old sons, Markos and Garrin, to a steer named Bud.
“I think it’s important for kids to be around animals … and know what’s OK to pet and what’s not,” Pareas said.
Memories of FFA animals were common. In the Rotary Park, over a plate of the fair’s famous tacos, Lindsey Shellhammer mentioned Black Betty, the sheep her husband showed when he was 17 and a part of the Woodland FFA Chapter. Her husband, Matt Shellhammer, has been going to the Yolo County Fair for about 20 years.
“I like that it’s free-admission,” he said. “I like the destruction derby. That’s always a highlight.”
Nearby, the antique engines sputtered and spit next to the restored antique fire engines. Antique engine owner Kevin Nixon remembers attending the fairs with his grandfather, Stan Glandey, who displayed engines at the fair when Nixon was a kid.
“I basically came out to work on stuff,” Nixon said. His visits to the fair inspired his career choice — he’s a farm mechanic. He owns 10 antique engines, four of which were gifts from his grandfather.
“It’s just nice. A good crowd of people. It’s nice to come out here and see a lot of friends,” he said.
As it grew dark, Cici Garcia waited in line so her oldest daughter could ride the large Ferris wheel in the Midway to Fun carnival area.
“I just won a goldfish,” said her 8-year-old daughter, Denyse.
“What are you going to name it?” asked her mom, who held a Pepsi cup in one hand and a corn dog stick in the other.
“Nemo!” said Garcia’s younger daughter, 4-year-old Destiny.
In the estimated 20 fairs Cici Garcia has attended since she was a little girl, not much has changed except that this year Denyse is too tall to ride the “little kid rides” with her sister. Destiny watched in a tired stupor as her sister rode the Ferris wheel that whirled around and around in the night.
The Yolo County Fair continues through Sunday at the fairgrounds at Gum Avenue and East Street in Woodland. Admission is free. Parking is $5. Tonight, the fair will offer live professional wrestling; admission is $15.
The demolition derbies have been moved to Friday and Saturday nights to accommodate guests who have to work early Monday morning and don’t want to stay out late Sunday evening.
Today and Friday, $25 Midway to Fun coupons can be redeemed for unlimited carnival rides from noon to midnight. On Saturday, the FFA Livestock Auction will begin at 1 p.m. in the Junior Action Ring. The antique tractor show that premiered at the fair in 2011 will return to the main arena at 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit www.yolocountyfair.net.