By August 11, 2017 Read More →

WVU stakes out major presence at State Fair

By Tina Alvey

The REGISTER-HERALD of Beckley

FAIRLEA, W.Va. — If it’s raining, most old-timers will comment, it must be State Fair week.

But an intermittent drizzle on opening day failed to dampen spirits as the West Virginia State Fairgrounds bustled Thursday with throngs of people checking out the latest farm equipment, taking in a free show, arcing high above the midway on the Dutch Wheel and eating more fried food than they ever thought possible.

Fairgoers interested in where that food came from originally, before it was cocooned in bacon and dipped in batter — or who just wanted to scoop up some Mountaineer swag — flocked to the WVU Building near the fairgrounds’ northwest corner.

“We love coming to the State Fair,” exclaimed WVU’s Tara Curtis, pointing out displays with material to hand out and representatives from the university’s College of Business and Economics, WVU Extension Service and Student Life.

The entire building is an homage to interactivity, with food demonstrations every day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., free copies of recipes, a photo booth and plenty of games (with prizes) for kids, along with weekend WVU Jeopardy game show competitions for adults.

“Technologically, we’ve taken our games up a notch this year,” Curtis said, waving a hand at the electronic devices on which youngsters could log their answers to various quizzes and contests. “Kids like that,” Curtis added. “It’s a way to reach them and get them involved.”

Just across from the building’s inviting front porch is the WVU Extension Service’s Master Gardeners heritage garden, laid out with winding pathways to coax visitors from a dizzying array of herbs to showy zinnias and hydrangeas, and from heritage vegetables to a zen garden. Tiny birds and bees of all descriptions make their home amid the fragrant plants, against a backdrop of the patter of water flowing from a fountain.

The 14-year-old garden is something of a labor of love for Pat and Willa Izzo, who helped to found Master Gardeners of the Greenbrier Valley and were manning an information table at the garden’s entrance Thursday afternoon.

With the ease of one retelling a familiar tale, Willa Izzo recalled her persistence in wearing down resistance to the idea of such an organization in the valley, embodied by former Greenbrier County WVU Extension Agent John McCutcheon.

“When I approached (McCutcheon) with the idea, he said there was no interest in that here,” Izzo said. “So I pestered him for five years. Finally, he said, ‘OK. If you can get 10 people, we’ll do it.'” I came up with 11 people,” she concluded triumphantly.

Once the ball started rolling, McCutcheon “became a huge supporter” of the Master Gardeners program, Izzo said.

Another Master Gardener who was doling out information Thursday, Judy Seifer, noted that the 50 active members of the local organization put in an estimated 600 to 650 hours of volunteer time to get the heritage garden ready for this year’s State Fair. And another 20-plus people have registered for a new Master Gardeners class that will begin right after Labor Day, she said.

“We have a wonderful partnership with the fair,” Izzo added. “We love people coming through this garden — those who garden and those who don’t.”

The State Fair of West Virginia continues in Fairlea through Aug. 19.

— Email: talvey@register-herald.com

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