The region’s first big fair of the season is set to open next week and highlight the Central Valley’s rich agricultural heritage.
The Merced County Spring Fair, now in its 125th year, is an institution. Last year, between 60,000 and 70,000 people attended, bringing in some $140,000 in ticket sales alone. Every year, the fair employs nearly 130 people.
The Spring Fair has fun, food and a side of learning on Merced’s many crops: milk, almonds, cattle, chickens, sweet potatoes, hay, tomatoes and more.
It’s in that spirit that supporters gathered Saturday night for the 2014 spring fair kickoff dinner, hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
“It’s a tradition,” said Ron Brandt, fair manger, “and it gets people talking about the fair.”
The night began with a social hour that led up to a steak dinner.
In attendance was Miss May Day Kaitlyn Alanis, members of the Heritage Foundation team, Grand Marshal Ron Alberti and more than 400 community members.
Brandt said the dinner serves as a fundraiser and as a way to celebrate the start of the Merced County Spring Fair.
Money raised through the Heritage Foundation, was started in recent years in response to dwindling state funding, goes toward youth exhibits programs and fair-related activities and the Heritage Scholarship Foundation.
“Looking around tonight, I see a lot of new faces,” said Paul Parreira, fair board member. “To us, it means that we’ve got an awful lot of support from the community to put our fair on.”
Alberti said it’s a great honor to represent the fair as this year’s grand marshal. “It’s great being here as grand marshal, because I was selected by my peers (and) fellow directors,” he said.
Alberti has been involved with the fair his entire life. He followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming an exhibitor as a child. He was a 4-H leader, and was twice appointed to the fair’s board of directors.
His goal as grand marshal is to inspire people to get involved at the fair. “I like to see everyone come to this fair and leave this fair with a smile,” he said, “and learn something; because you can always learn something at the fair.”
The night concluded with an auction that was led by city Councilman Scott Silveira. Auctioneers raised thousands from a dozen items that included fair posters, VIP passes, T-shirts and hats.