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City slickers get chance to celebrate DuPage County's farming heritage
By Jessica Cilella | Daily Herald Staff

Buddy Haas of Elburn will be exhibiting two steers and four crossbred market lambs at this week's DuPage County in Wheaton.

 

Courtesy Buddy Haas

The DuPage County Fair provides suburban residents with a rare opportunity to come face-to-face with animals that once were common here.

 

Daily Herald file photo

"I think people need to know where their food comes from and people need to understand agriculture," says Stephen Haas, vice president of the DuPage County Fair Association.

 

Daily Herald file photo

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Published: 7/21/2010 12:00 AM

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Since the beginning of May, Buddy Haas has rolled out of bed between 4 and 5:30 a.m. every day.

The 17-year-old from Elburn isn't crawling out of the sack to play a sport or participate in an extracurricular activity, like some other high school seniors do.

If anything, he's pretty far from being a typical teenager.

Haas is getting up at the crack of dawn each day to prepare for state and county fair season by spending hours washing, conditioning, drying and brushing his livestock.

"It's like a mixture of a dog show and a bodybuilding contest," he said. "The judge is looking at the muscle composition of the animal, along with the show-appeal - the animal that brings the most meat to the market, but that also looks good in the ring."

On Tuesday Haas traveled to Wheaton, where he lived until about 31/2 years ago, to exhibit his two steers and four crossbred market lambs at the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton.

The fair opens tonight and continues through Sunday at the fairgrounds, 2015 Manchester Road.

The longtime 4-H member began showing animals there when he was 8 and keeps coming back because he believes it's important that people, even those living in a highly urbanized county, get to see livestock up close.

"It's in such a nonagricultural area that they're really trying to focus more on the roots of DuPage," he said of the fair. "It used to be one of the biggest county fairs in the area and somewhat it still is today because of the quality of animals that are represented there. But it's really nice to see that aspect brought out."

Stephen Haas, his father and vice president of the DuPage County Fair Association, agrees.

"I think people need to know where their food comes from and people need to understand agriculture," he said. "While it's not being done in DuPage, every single person is involved in agriculture, whether it's the food they eat on their tables, the leather belts they wear, the baseball gloves, footballs - almost everything that we do in life today."

Besides educating people, two kinds competitions - an open category for all ages and a junior one for ages 8 to 18 - add some fun, and sometimes intense, moments to the livestock area of the fair.

More than 900 animals, including goats, sheep, swine, poultry, cattle and rabbits, are being exhibited at this year's fair.

Prizes for the owners of the best livestock include an expensive belt buckle, ribbons, banners and even some cash.

Mike Martz will be one of the beef judges.

He said each judge has their own criteria, but he focuses on the structure, soundness of feet and legs, muscle and, of course, market prices.

"We're trying to determine how that animal looks once he's harvested and he's at the packer in the meat cooler or at the meat counter and how much value that animal will have for the consumer when they buy that product," he said.

When Haas began to compete, the fact that his animals would be sent off to be someone's dinner was a hard concept to accept.

"When I first started showing I definitely cried a little bit just because you do grow a bond with these animals and you have been working very hard for over a year trying to get them ready for the fair," he said. "But, about the age of 10 was when I really started realizing these animals are specifically made for the meat because steers are not able to reproduce."

"It's just something that makes the kids in 4-H mature at a young age because you have to deal with things such as death," he said.

Mertz pointed out there are misconceptions about how "inhumane livestock is."

"There are times when people are not treating livestock correctly, but it's a small percentage," he said. "If you come to the fair and see how the kids love these animals and take care of these animals, it's just the opposite. There's a real bond there between the exhibitor and the animal."

There are plenty of other competitions to see in the area of Home Economics and Science, featuring everything from flowers to photography, for those who would rather not think about the fate of the livestock.

"It's just so much fun to see these things that other people have made," said Diane Weber, chairwoman of the open class department of home economics. "Once you see that you think, 'Oh, well I can do that' or 'I've done that' and you want to be part of it."

Some of the unique items people can enter in competition include displays of Coca-Cola memorabilia, antique jewelry or Hallmark ornaments in the collections department or sun catchers, refrigerator magnets and clothes pin figures under the arts and crafts department.

Entries are typically $1 and awards range from around $8 or less for each item that places in the top three or four.

Weber said the age of the 200 or more competitors range from 8 to people in their 80s and 90s. She said visitors are often amazed by all the things they see and decide to enter themselves in future competitions.

"We have the people who come in and try to learn the ropes, learn what all is there and what they can compete in," she said. "Then they see ribbons that they can get and the prize money and they get enthused. They'll bring their friends and come back the next year."

And that's all Stephen Haas can hope for. For him, more people attending the fair each year means more people who are informed about farming in the United States.

"Our job is not just to have a good time at the fair, but to educate these kids and educate the population about agriculture and how important it is to the community," he said. "I really think it brings roots back to America, what America is really about. People are helping other people and I think it's just good-time fun."

The DuPage County Fair opens today and runs through Sunday at the fairgrounds, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. The fair's hours are from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Admission is $10 for adults and $3 for children and does not cover the demolition derby, grandstand concerts or rides. For details, visit dupagecountyfair.org.

DAILY

All day: Agricadabra agriculture magic show, Carrie McQueen stilt-walker and variety artist, Buttons the Clown, Tennesota artists, Boots & Britches 1923 Dream Camper Show and Exhibit, and Swine Time Pig Racing and Exhibit

In Ag-Ventureland: Magic show, camel rides, sheep shearing, wood carvers, pedal tractors, forest preserve displays, milk a "lifelike" cow, corn shelling, blacksmithing, pony rides, petting zoo, wildlife display, hit 'n' miss engines, small engines, corn grinding, antique tractors, rope making, milking demonstrations, dairy display with calves, orchid society, pet a fish, and try casting and spinning and weaving

In the Home Ec., Science and Arts Building: Butter churning, craft demonstrations and a scavenger hunt

10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Guest relations booth open, fair souvenirs for sale; Memory Barn open west of Fair Cafe

TODAY

8 a.m. Judging of 4-H and Junior Open Class Sheep, Tent Show Ring

8 a.m. Judging of 4-H, Junior Open and Open Class Poultry, Poultry Barn

8-11 a.m. Home Economics, Agricultural Science and Arts Building closed for judging

8:30-11 a.m. 4-H Foot and Horticulture Conference judging and check in

10 a.m. Judging of 4-H and Junior Open Class Swine, Show Ring

10:30 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Kids Bucks Game Shows

11 a.m., 1, 2:30, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Swine Time Pig Races

Noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Balster's Magic Show

12:30 p.m. 4-H Fashion Review and Judging, Entertainment Tent

1, 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Great American Duck Race

8 p.m. Danny Gokey in concert

THURSDAY

9 a.m. Judging of 4-H and Junior Open Class Goats, Goat Barn

11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Kids Bucks Game Shows

11 a.m., 1, 2:30, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Swine Time Pig Races

Noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Balster's Magic Show

1, 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Great American Duck Race

2 p.m. Judging of 4-H and Junior Open Class Beef, Show Ring

5-8 p.m. Vegetable, Flower and Flower Arrangement Exhibits brought in for Friday Show

6-8 p.m. Livestock Auction Sign-up, Beef Barn

9 p.m. Laser Spectacular, featuring the Spirit of Michael Jackson

FRIDAY

8 a.m. Judging of Open Class Sheep, Tent Show Ring

8:30 a.m. Judging of 4-H and Junior Open Class Rabbits, Rabbit Barn

9 a.m. Judging of Open Class Swine, Show Ring

11 a.m., 1, 2:30, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Swine Time Pig Races

11:30 a.m., 2 and 4 p.m. Kids Bucks Game Shows

Noon, 1, 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Great American Duck Race

1, 3 and 5 p.m. Balster's Magic Show

8 p.m. DuPage Rocks

SATURDAY

8 a.m. Open Class Horse Show, Horse Show Ring

8 a.m. Judging of 4-H and Junior Open Class Dairy followed by Open Class Fair, Show Ring

9 a.m. Judging of Open Class Goats, Goat Barn

9 a.m. Ghirardelli "Chocolate Championship" Judging

10 a.m. King Arthur Flour "Great Cake Contest" Judging

11 a.m., 1, 2:30, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Swine Time Pig Races

Noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Kids Bucks Game Shows

Noon, 1, 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Great American Duck Race

1 p.m. Talent Contest

1, 3 and 5 p.m. Balster's Magic Show

2 p.m. Judging of Open Class Beef, Show Ring

7 p.m. Livestock Auction, Livestock Show Ring

8 p.m. Lonnie Brooks & Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater

SUNDAY

8 a.m. Open Class Horse Show, Horse Show Ring

11 a.m., 1, 2:30, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Swine Time Pig Races

Noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Kids Bucks Game Shows

Noon, 1, 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Great American Duck Race

1, 3 and 5 p.m. Balster's Magic Show

2 p.m. Demolition Derby

4 p.m. Awards Program, Entertainment Tent

5-8 p.m. Open Class Premiums, Open Class Office

6 p.m. Large livestock released

7 p.m. Demolition Derby

8 p.m. Poultry and rabbits released

8-9:30 p.m. Release of 4-H, Junior Open Class and Open Class Exhibits

9 p.m. Release of Commercial Exhibits