By GEOFF PARKS
For the Capital Press
SALEM -- Warm, sunny weather brought huge crowds to the 25th annual Ag Fest, held April 27-28 at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.
Oregon Ag Fest board member Craig Anderson said although a final tally was yet to be made, "1,300 more people showed up on April 27 than were counted on the first Saturday of the event last year."
He added that the crowds appeared to be as large on April 28, hinting the total for 2013 is likely to be well over the 18,000 average for the two-day event.
Each day was booked from open to close with events geared towards kids, families and those curious about discovering how agriculture is part of everyday life.
From Leapin' Louie's Cowboy Tricks and the Cherry City Cloggers dance group to mini-pedal tractor races and sheep shearing demonstrations, entertainment and activities encompassed the ag spectrum.
One of the top draws for kids each year is Ag Country, a "community" that features a bank, store, dairy barn and other businesses, and Farmland Play Area, where kids can milk a (cardboard) cow, dig for real potatoes, watch chicks hatch from incubated eggs and more hands-on activities.
Two areas of particular interest for the public were the second annual Oregon Ag Fest Agricultural Education Awards, and the presence of several county Dairy Princess-Ambassadors, the newly crowned Oregon Dairy Princess-Ambassador, and her first alternate.
Anderson said the Ag Education Awards sprang from an Ag Fest board discussion a few years ago to recognize programs for youth or non-profit programs that extend ag education statewide.
"We see this award as a way to encourage and support student groups that have programs and activities aimed (at) ... educating the public about the importance of agriculture," said Geoff Horning, Oregon Ag Fest Chair.
This year, the Cove FFA won the $1,000 top award for their Cove Agriculture Education Center, which consists of a chicken coop -- kindergarten kids collect the eggs -- a school garden and other ag education projects that reach over 1,200 people in the community each year.
Second place and $600 went to the Henley FFA for their education outreach efforts to local elementary students. The FFA members taught Ag in the Classroom lessons and hosted a farm field day for the students.
In third place, and receiving $400, was the Cascade FFA Alumni, for their Agricultural Safety Day event. Held every year for local third-grade students, the event teaches kids safety on the farm and ranch through "learning stations" spotlighting such issues as power takeoff and basic tractor safety, among others.
The Oregon Dairy Princess-Ambassador contingent was nearly everywhere at once, making and serving the famous Oregon Dairy Women ice cream cones in two places on the sprawling fairgrounds, passing out stickers touting dairy products, helping kids spin the wheel and have fun with other games for prizes such as books, pencils and ice cream and other dairy products.
The new Oregon Dairy Princess-Ambassador, Kaitie Brawley of Aumsville, who was crowned in January, spent some time in the Americraft Cookware Center -- formerly the Jackman-Long Building -- making up batches of Cornbread-Yogurt Parfaits for the assembled crowds.
With a deft touch and a gracious demeanor, Brawley was able to pull off a 10-minute demonstration with poise.