TURLOCK — Most years, the Stanislaus County Fair board picks one or two goods to highlight: nuts, pigs, cheese, renewable energy. This year, the theme — and the fair, which opens today — takes a more encompassing approach: "Flavors of the Valley."
The fair will showcase the variety of food products that come from the Central Valley, from wine and turkey to fruits and vegetables.
"The Flavors of the Valley theme at this year's fair is a salute to our local manufacturers and processors," said fair spokeswoman Adrenna Alkhas.
Fair officials also brought in a wider variety of attractions, which they hope will attract more people during the fair's 10-day run.
This year's fair is a week earlier than in previous years; the board made the shift after the California State Fair board moved its dates. Although they're running concurrently, fair board member Bill Mattos said he isn't concerned the state fair will draw people away from the local event.
Mattos said presale tickets were sold at a rate just slightly behind last year's, promising news in a troubled economy. "And we sell most of our tickets at the gate," he said.
New attractions at this year's fair include a playhouse where children make craft projects, a scavenger hunt game and the Flavors of the Valley exhibit, which includes samples of locally produced food and drink.
The playhouse was built by Clay and Elaine Everett, who last year created the Rainforest Adventure. The 8,000-square-foot rainforest is back, too, with toucans, anacondas, snapping turtles and other animals and bugs.
Fairgoers can take part in the scavenger hunt through their cell phones by texting "FAIR" to 728647. Participants will be sent through the fair to find answers to questions; each correct answer earns a point. The winner will get an iPad and four tickets to Disneyland.
Another change is the train display. Local miniature train enthusiasts traditionally set up tracks in a room to the side of one of the exhibit buildings. This year, the trains are outside, running through a garden specifically set up for them.
"I think we're going to have a bottleneck here most days, which is what we want," said fair Chief Executive Officer Chris Borovansky. This will be Borovansky's first Stanislaus County Fair. The longtime manager of the Jackson County Fair in Central Point, Ore., was hired this spring to replace the retiring Tony Leo.
But what makes a fair are the animals and contests. Members of 4-H and FFA clubs will move the majority of their animals into the barns this weekend for competition. Award-winning entries in contests ranging from cookie decorating to photography will be on display in the fair's air-conditioned buildings.
Speaking of air conditioning, officials are watching the thermometer with a wary eye. Crowds are lighter when it's really hot; the forecast over the next couple of days calls for temperatures into the triple digits, although it's supposed to cool down next week.