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State Fair of West Virginia returns for 97th year

FAIR TIME — West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt encourages everyone to attend the 97th annual State Fair of West Virginia beginning today. -- Steven Allen Adams

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s premier agricultural fair returns today for its 97th year with rides, entertainment, and everything West Virginia’s farmers have to offer.

The State Fair of West Virginia begins today and continues until Aug. 20 at the State Fairgrounds in Lewisburg. The theme this year is “Mountain Grown Fun.”

Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt and the staff of the Department of Agriculture have set up shop at the State Fair this week preparing for the festivities. For Leonhardt, there is no better event in the state for showing off West Virginia agriculture, agri-businesses and food products to attendees near and far.

“It’s always an exciting time of the year and a very busy time for the entire fair board, but also for the Department of Agriculture,” Leonhardt said in an interview Tuesday.

Fair goers can enjoy carnival rides and exhibits of all kinds. The State Fair concert series already boasts two sold-out shows today with Cody Johnson and special guest Randall King, and Zach Bryan and special guest Charles Wesley Godwin on Aug. 18.

Tickets are still available for other shows, including Foreigner on Saturday, Clay Walker and Tracy Byrd on Sunday and Walker Hayes with special guest Tigirlily on Aug. 20.

Kathy Mattea, a West Virginia native and host of Mountain Stage on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, will perform a free show on Tuesday.

The Department of Agriculture helps manage the West Virginia Country Store in the Gus R. Douglass Annex where 36 vendors from around the state will show off their food products marketed under the “WV Grown” banner. Products include jellies and jams, maple syrups, sauces and salsas, artisan soaps and honey.

“We’ve got eight new vendors palling to show up, so we try to change the variety a little bit each year,” Leonhardt said.

But the heart and soul of the State Fair are the livestock shows. Exhibits include the West Virginia High School Rodeo, Junior 4-H and FFA livestock shows, horse shows and draft horse pull. No live birds and poultry will be at the State Fair this year due to outbreaks of avian flu in other states, and while swine will be at the fair, the swine barn will be closed to the public.

“We all met with all our partners and some of our surrounding states and we discussed the next steps,” Leonhardt said. “We determined that there was not a real serious threat at this time to call off showing the animals, because our youth have put a lot of work into those animals and there’s a lot of money tied up into it. We made a decision, and the State Fair leadership was at the table as well…that we were going to continue with the show, but we’re going to restrict access to the barn out of an abundance of caution.”

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Resources announced last week they had received reports of possible swine flu linked to the Jackson County Fair last month. While presumptive positive tests confirmed swine flu, quick work at detecting the virus helped keep the outbreak limited.

“Early detection is key,” Leonhardt said. “The first time we catch something, then we have to contain it.”

Before swine can enter the State Fair pens, veterinarians with the Department of Agriculture will inspect the swine to ensure they are healthy before entering the pens. While there have been no outbreaks of avian flu in the state, it was decided to not have birds and poultry at the fair. No further outbreaks of swine flu have been reported.

“We’ve kept the state clean. I want to keep it that way,” Leonhardt said.

For more information and ticket availability, visit statefairofwv.com.

Listen to the full interview with Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt on the Mountain State Views podcast hosted by Steven Allen Adams, which is available on most popular podcast platforms.

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