DuPage Fair's AgVentureland helps kids experience farm life
For more than 50 years, Harold Davis has been up to his elbows in sheep.
"I've sheared sheep and worked with sheep my whole life," he said.
If you goWhat: DuPage County Fair
When: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through Sunday, July 31
Where: DuPage County Fairgrounds, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton
Cost: $8 for adults, $3 for ages 3 to 12, free for younger children; free for seniors from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Friday
For a look at the full fair schedule, see Page 2;
What began as a profitable business in high school turned into a lifelong career for Davis, who retired from professional sheep shearing in 2002.
But Davis once again has returned to the DuPage County Fair to dazzle fair goers with his shears.
"It always draws a crowd around them when they're shearing the sheep," AgVentureland Chairman Tom Meyer said.
Davis has demonstrated sheep shearing at a number of festivals and fairs, including a 15-year stint from June until August at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. Sheep shearing demonstrations are at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. daily throughout the fair, which runs through Sunday, July 31.
"Our society is getting so far away from the rural roots that the majority of people aren't aware of how livestock is handled and how we care for it," Davis said.
Though he enjoys educating families about his lifelong passion, Davis also admits that he "likes to talk a lot."
"My wife, Bonnie, the high for her is just watching the expression on people's faces," Davis said of his demonstrations. "Seeing how I handle the sheep, it just kind of amazes them that the sheep cooperate as well as they do."
The Davis' sheep-shearing skills are just one of the marvels families will find in AgVentureland, the DuPage County Fair's educational agricultural center.
"The whole concept of AgVentureland is to educate children and their families on where their food comes from," Meyer said.
The area will be open daily during the DuPage County Fair and is included with fair admission, though there is an extra charge for the petting zoo and pony rides, Meyer said.
AgVentureland gives suburban families a look at what life is like down on the farm, allowing them to churn butter, milk Maggie the lifelike cow and grind corn.
Kids also can try the returning Help a Farmer for a Day game, where participants collect a fake egg from under a toy chicken, pick a plastic apple and dig in the sand for a potato to simulate a farmer's daily work.
"Years ago, when I first saw it, I thought, that's so simple," Meyer said of the activity. "Who would want to do that?"
Meyer, though, has been surprised by the game's popularity, saying that "some of the kids will go through there many, many times."
The overarching purpose of AgVentureland is to get kids excited about learning and the food they consume.
"There's so much to see and learn and do in AgVentureland," Fair Association Manager Ellen Sietmann said. "Kids enjoy it as well as adults, from riding the pedal tractors to milking a lifelike cow."
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County will provide aquatic life from the area's rivers and lakes for exhibit in a fish tank the size of a semi. Kids can practice their casting skills in hourly fishing demonstrations at the tank.
"It's so neat to see the people standing and looking at everything," Sietmann said.
From agriculture displays to pint-size pedal tractors, the event's organizers strive to represent all aspects of modern farming, animal life and food production at the fair.
This year, AgVentureland will feature a prime example of the evolution of farming: a booth about robotics.
"A lot of tractors nowadays have GPS and robotics that steer them," Meyer said. "Robotics has become really big in agriculture."
Whether kids are curious to see how maple syrup is made or love watching chicks hatch, AgVentureland promises to be the stop for family fair favorites.