It's fair time again, which means thousands of Benton and Franklin county residents are eagerly planning to see their favorite rock or country acts or are salivating at the prospect of biting into a sugar-coated elephant ear fresh from the deep fryer.
But while the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo certainly offers a lot of family fun, food and entertainment, it also offers Mid-Columbians a chance to celebrate their agrarian roots -- which a cornucopia of exhibits being set up Monday showed are very much alive today.
From livestock raised with tender care by 4-H students to garments hand-knitted from homespun wool, the heart of the bicounty fair is a demonstration of the classic American pioneering spirit hearkening back to a time before fast food and mass production, when families ate what they grew and wore what they made.
Members of the Buena Vista Grange in Prosser hope to remind fairgoers that produce doesn't come from a grocery store, with a display showing the diverse and abundant crops grown in the region.
"We just show a portion of what farmers grow," said Grange member Rose Amack, who carefully arranged tomatoes, cantaloupes, grapes and ears of corn in a display Monday.
"There's no way to tell everything because they grow a lot," she added.
Her husband, Grange Master Loren Amack, said the display is intended in part to help teach children about agriculture and the food they eat.
"I believe people, especially kids, need to be introduced to farm products," he said.
In a nearby corner, local craftswomen were setting up the Open Fiber Arts exhibit, where fairgoers can find displays of handmade hats, scarves and sweaters made from yarn so soft that the urge to pet them like kittens almost is irresistible.
Those who wander into the exhibit also will be able to watch fiber artists comb and card raw wool and spin it into yarn using wooden spinning wheels.
Karen Dodson, the exhibit's superintendent and an experienced spinner of alpaca wool, said part of the fun is seeing how absorbed other people become in watching the wool get processed and made into yarn or fiber.
"We'll be sitting here spinning away ... and look up and will see people mesmerized," she said. "Every once in awhile we get an engineer type who tries to figure out the spinning wheel process."
Kendra Myers, superintendent of the agricultural exhibit hall, thinks the exhibit likely to inspire the most buzz is the 25,000 honey bees being put on display in an enclosed hive by the Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association.
The display was so popular last year that the organization's space was increased for this year's fair.
"That will be the main attraction," Myers said.
What Myers likes best about the bee display is that it highlights local people making a local product.
"They talk a lot about local honey," she said. "I learned from them last year, it helps with local allergies."
The fair opens at 9 a.m. today.
Today's highlights: Joan Jett and The Blackhearts on the Main Stage at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: Admission is $12 at the gate. Senior citizens ages 65 and older and kids ages 6 to 12 are $5. Ages 5 and younger are free. All-day wristbands for carnival rides are $23 in advance or $30 at the gate. Get advance tickets online at http://bit.ly/fairtickets, Kennewick Ranch and Home, or the fair office, 1500 S. Oak St., Kennewick.
Transit: Ben Franklin Transit will have bus service to and from the fair each day.
Buses depart on the hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and every half-hour from 5 to 11 p.m. from Knight Street Transit Center in Richland, TRAC/Holiday Inn Express in Pasco, the 22nd Avenue Transit Center in Pasco, Tri-Tech Skills Center on Kellogg Street in Kennewick and Lampson Stadium in Kennewick.
Shuttle fares are $1.25 each way or $3.50 each way for families of three or more. Senior citizens 65 and older and the disabled pay 60 cents each way.
Fair/bus combo tickets are $13.50 for ages 13 to 64. For those 65 and older and kids 6 to 12, combo tickets are $6.50.
Weather: Mostly sunny and 91 degrees