County fair


After months of preparation, one of the county’s most anticipated summertime events starts next week.

The Valencia County Fair officially kicks off next Saturday, Aug. 16, at the fairgrounds in Belen and will wrap up the next weekend with the annual parade, the junior livestock auction and lots of activities for the entire family to enjoy.

News-Bulletin file photo: The Valencia County Fair has a long history of celebrating the hard work the youth accomplish for raising livestock, such as these cows. The county fair will be held from Saturday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 24.

The theme for this year’s county fair parade, which is sponsored by the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce, is “Building Bridges in Valencia County.” All five mayors from Belen, Los Lunas, Peralta, Bosque Farms and Rio Communities, as well as the chairman of the Valencia County Commission, will be in the lead float as the parade marshals.

Danny Goodson, president of the Valencia Fair Management Co. board of directors, is excited to kick off the 81st annual Valencia County Fair, which he says will be better than ever this year with new events and attractions.

“There will be more entertainment for the kids, such as carnival games,” Goodson said. “We want everyone — kids of all ages — to come out and have a good time.”

Included in the new events will be family-oriented outdoor movies, which will be available on two nights of the fair. Goodson said it’s an opportunity to sit down with some popcorn with the whole family and enjoy the movie. The outdoor movie will be shown on the first night of the fair after the mutton busting competition and on the Thursday, Aug. 21.

The annual barbecue contest, which will be judged this year by Sen. Michael Sanchez, Rep. Kelly Fajardo, Alvin Ivory and Jed Dixon, has been moved to the first weekend of the fair. Amateurs who want to try their hand at busting out the best barbecue in the county will have three chances with three categories: pork, beef and chicken.

The overall champion will receive a buckle and individual category winners will receive a trophy. Second and third-place winners will receive a ribbon

“We decided to move it to the first weekend not only to attract more people to the fair, but because there’s so much going on on the second weekend,” Goodson said. “Last year, we had about eight entries, so it’s pretty popular, and it’s good eatin’.”

Local chefs will have a second chance to toot their horns on the second weekend of the fair with the annual chile cook-off competition. The judges, including Don James, of Albuquerque The Magazine, Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, Rio Communities Municipal Judge Heather Benavidez, Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova and local attorney Joshua Sanchez, will choose the best green chile dish, red chile dish and salsa.

Prizes will be awarded to the top entries in both the barbecue and chile contests.

The new Kidz Fun Zone, which costs $5 for an all-day pass or $1 for a single activity, will have everything from wet and dry jumpers, bouncy houses and a corn-pit area to pony rides, a pedal tractor race and carnival games.

Some of the other new events also include three different gunfight exhibitions and a magic show.

One of the more popular attractions of the Valencia County Fair has been the dunk tank. While a final list of those who will face falling into the tank full of water hasn’t been finalized, Goodson says several politicians and candidates have already signed up for the dare while at the same time challenging others.

“All I know is that I’ve been volunteered,” Goodson says with a laugh. “I’ll be there to get dunked — one time. It’s all about having fun.”

Several years ago, fair organizers wanted to bring the ole-fashioned tradition of hay-stacking back to the county fair, which Goodson says has since become a celebrated competition.

“I participated in it when I was younger, but they hadn’t done it in quite a few years,” he said, “but they brought it back, which I think people like.”

The hay-stacking competition, which is sponsored by the Valencia County Farm Bureau, is timed-event and judged on the stack of hay.

“They have to put a tie in the stack to keep a stack from coming apart and falling down,” Goodman says. “They have to stack 40 bales. Being strong and fast helps, but it doesn’t matter in the long run. We’ve had people who don’t look very strong do it. Anybody can do it if they want to. I have seen people who have never touched a bale do it.

“It’s an art that was kind of disappearing,” he added. “That’s all I did when I was growing up on a dairy.”

Living in an agriculturally-rich county, the roads between towns are lined with fertile fields. At this time of year, much of the ground is covered in greenery, be it crops of alfalfa or grass-covered pastures for cattle and horses.

On many of these farms live children who want to continue the family legacy when they grow up. They learn on the farm and through clubs such as 4-H and FFA. And each year, in the middle of August, they come out to the county fair and showcase a variety of projects.

“The constant of the fair has been the youth livestock exhibits,” said Goodson, who has been a member of the Valencia County Fair Board for more than 20 years. “It’s a good learning experience for the kids to take care of animals, raise them and take them to the fair to exhibit them. Then maybe they’ll end up winning some sort of cash prize or at least some sort of award.”

Goodson, who says raising a farm animal is an experience for the entire family, is excited that his 11-year-old granddaughter, Rachelle, will be participating by showing lambs and pigs for the first time.

“The fair is the best place for the youth of our county to be involved,” he said. “FFA and 4-H is an excellent way for our kids to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

A glance at the fair schedule gives an idea of just how many different activities local children are involved with, whether 4-H members or not.

There are competitions for animals — small and large. On the small end are rabbits and chickens. Getting bigger, they have goats and sheep. The largest are the cows. In the barns and stables, it is the kids who, with pride, will be caring for and grooming these animals.

It’s not just about animals, though. There are a variety of indoor exhibits, from arts and crafts, sewing and photography to produce, horticulture and preserves.

While the Valencia County Fair serves as a wonderful showcase for talented kids, it also is just a good ole-fashioned time, with lots of great food and entertainment.

And still, there is more fun to be had, such as a dairy milking show, which is sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of America, and local firefighters will be on hand at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 23, to spray water on the kids.

“I still think it’s the best place to bring the family,” Goodson said of the Valencia County Fair. “It’s the best place to have conversation and meet people. Once you go, you’ll always have that special memory of being at a county fair.”

-- Email the author at