Giant vegetables, baby calves draw crowds at State Fair of Virginia

state fair of virginiaThey may not have broken a State Fair of Virginia record, but the giant pumpkin and watermelon entries were a huge showstopper at the fair on Sept. 25.

Ricky Atkins of Southampton County won first place for his 773-pound giant pumpkin. Barry Shrum of Shenandoah County placed second with a 750-pound pumpkin, and Robin Shrum, also of Shenandoah County, won third with a 701-pound entry.

A first-time grower from Newport News, Cody Lahocki, had a 1,241-pound pumpkin that was disqualified under Great Pumpkin Commonwealth rules due to a crack larger than 3 inches.

In the giant watermelon competition, Luke Williams of Middlesex County took first place with a 197-pound variety; second place went to Hank Houston of Spotsylvania County, who grew a 160-pound specimen; and Jr. Brent Of Lancaster County placed third with a 148-pound melon.

Williams also won a blue ribbon in the gourd classes for his 121-pound bushel gourd, and Davis Wells of Hanover County took first place for an 81¼-inch long gourd.

But it wasn’t just giant vegetables that fairgoers were treated to in the opening days of the event, which runs through Oct. 3 at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County. A calf was born each of the first three days of the fair. A bull calf named Henry was born in the wee hours of opening day, Sept. 24, followed by another bull calf, Otis, on Sept. 25, and a heifer named Annie early in the morning on Sept. 26.

Fairgoers witnessed Otis’ birth, and “they were fascinated,” said Larry Cohron, a farmer in Augusta County who supervises the births and hand-milking demonstrations during the fair’s 10-day run. “I’m 80 and have been witnessing calving almost all my life, but it’s still a miracle every time.”

Fair organizers want to share that miracle with the public, which is why the calving, milking and educational program in the SouthLand Dairy Farmer Center is a fixture in the fair’s Harvest Landing.

The owners of Riverside Farm in King William County breed 10 of their dairy cows so they will be due to calve during the State Fair. They transport the animals to the fair, and once the calves are born, the cows and calves are taken back to the farm.

It doesn’t always work out as planned, however. This year all 10 cows were due Sept. 23, but four of them calved before the fair even started, Cohron shared.


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