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Gardening: Yes, the fair is fun and games, but it’s educational, too – Florida Times

It’s fair time in Jacksonville and there is something of interest for everyone. Country music, exciting rides and sinful foods like fried Twinkies or fried butter are things that may pop in your mind.

But the history of fairs in rural America was a time to celebrate the harvest season so agriculture has always been an integral part of county fairs. The same is true of the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair, which started Wednesday and runs through Sunday, Nov. 15.

Don’t pass up on this opportunity to support a local event that offers fun activities for the entire family as well as an educational component, such as youth and adult horticulture contests, the Division of Forestry, butterfly encounter and The Florida Crops Exhibit.

The Livestock Arena is always a hit. Don’t miss Old McDonald’s Farm, especially the sow with her greedy piglets. Baby chicks are pecking their way through their shells in a nearby incubator. Rabbits, geese, chickens, goats, sheep and several breeds of cows all add to the atmosphere in this very urban setting. What kid wouldn’t like to see the angora rabbits or the zebu (miniature cattle) show Saturday? Also on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., the fair will have the largest Brahman show ever in the Livestock Arena. This is the closest that some kids will ever get to a farm, and it can be an eye opener.

Next, cruise over to the Exhibit Hall to check out the Florida Crops Exhibit. Visit the Extension Learning House and learn tips from University of Florida experts. Roam through the various rooms to find answers and solutions to a multitude of questions. Inside the home, look for ideas on how to strengthen families and set family goals, manage money in tough times, manage mildew in bathrooms and save money on water and energy.

For kids, consider getting involved in 4-H, a youth development program that is part of the University of Florida. Check out the latest information on Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles as you walk around the exterior of the house. Find out how to save money and protect the environment by using drought-tolerant plants, collect rain water, and add edibles to the landscape. Stop at the “Doctor Is In” booth if you have gardening questions. Master gardeners will be available to answer questions and offer landscape suggestions.

Lettuce is one of the featured crops at the exhibit this year. See some of the best varieties of lettuce and check out the different growing techniques. Compare hydroponic and aquaponic culture as well as traditional plantings. All can be adopted for home production to produce a quick turn-around crop.

Instructions are available to make your own grow bucket to produce tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and an assortment of other hard-to-grow crops. Once put together, it is almost fail-proof as long as you supply the water. If you have some extra pallets sitting around, find the pallet garden to get ideas on how this can become an attractive addition to the landscape.

Do you have invasive plants in your landscape? Lean about some common landscape plants that are invasive and how to identify and control them.

Another area features termites, a major problem for local residents. Learn how to prevent termites, identify the various types and various control options.

Agriculture has an annual impact of $70 billion each year, so we’re growing more than houses and people. Despite shrinking farmlands due to urban development, Florida is still a major agriculture producer and is one of the top U.S. producers of oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, sugar cane, sweet corn, snap beans, watermelons, squash and cucumbers. Farmers markets are growing throughout Northeast Florida in addition to community-supported agriculture. While at the fair, find out where you can buy locally grown produce, or buy into a local farm through a CSA.

A favorite exhibit for adults and kids is the bee display manned by members of the Jacksonville Beekeepers Association. These experienced folks can help you start your own hive. Check out the winners of the honey contest and pick up some local honey for yourself. Find the queen in the demonstration hive designated by a special mark.

Visit the Country Store and see what the master gardeners have canned this year at the Extension Canning Center. There’s an assortment of jams, jellies and pickled products, including some low- and no-sugar items. Master gardeners will be on hand to show children how to make a radish seed necklace on both Saturdays.

The Horticulture Exhibit allows adults and youth to compete for ribbons and cash awards for outstanding plants. Wander through this area and enjoy the many unusual plants. It will make you green with envy. If you have a green thumb, consider entering some of your plants next year. Go to the fair website, look under arts and crafts and click on horticulture.

The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair is at 501 Fairgrounds Place, next to EverBank Field. Hours for the Exhibit Building are 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 3 to 10 p.m. on Friday; and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Veterans Day is Wednesday, so hours are noon to 10 p.m.

For more details on prices, entertainment and show options, go to

Terry Brite DelValle is a horticulture extension agent with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.

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