State Fair of Virginia kicks off 10-day run today

Video from 2021.

After a year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Fair of Virginia has returned to Caroline County. The year’s event includes live animals, culinary and creative arts, kids shows, interactive agricultural displays and educational experiences for people of all ages. Live music and traditional fair food is also plentiful, as is antique farm equipment, crafts, baked goods, carnival rides and vendor booths.


When she was a little girl growing up in Virginia Beach, Lesley Russell would make the annual trek up the road to Richmond to the State Fair of Virginia.

Back then, in the 1960s, she took particular interest in the horses – she rode and participated in horse shows as a child – as her grandfather was showing his Tennessee walking horse. At the same time, her uncle was showing his Hampshire hogs. She was a helper in both cases.

“I love the fair,” said Russell, who first started attending the fair when it was at what is now Richmond International Raceway on Laburnum Avenue before moving to The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County in 2009. “It’s a celebration of Virginia.”

In the past 20 years, since retiring from a teaching career and moving to Richmond, Russell has entered a new phase of her fair infatuation: baking. She’s a regular contestant in the fair’s culinary competitions. This year will be no different as she plans to make as many as 15 items (the maximum number of entries allowed) – cakes and cookies, muffins and scones – in hopes that she might win more ribbons to add to her collection. She typically wins nine or 10 ribbons. (“Not everything wins,” she said.) Her granddaughter, an art student at Virginia Commonwealth University, competes in the art contest.

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“It’s fun to try,” Russell said. “I remember when I first competed. The first year I entered, I won nothing, and the next year, I started honing in and got some ribbons. Then some of the old-timers were mad at me – you know, no one likes the new kid, especially in the baked goods, because it’s often the same little old ladies. ” She paused, before adding with a laugh, “I guess now I’m the little old lady.”

The coming week will be a busy one for Russell, who will spend a lot of time in the kitchen, preparing her entries. “You want to bake them as near as you [can] to the day you turn them in so they’ll be fresh and moist, ”she said – as the 2022 State Fair of Virginia opens its 10-day run Friday.



People ride a roller coaster at the State Fair of Virginia on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Virginia.


2021, SHABAN ATHUMAN / TIMES-DISPATCH


It’s been “a rough couple of years” for the fair, which was closed in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, said Marlene Jolliffe, the fair’s executive director and The Meadow Event Park’s vice president of operations. The fair reopened last year, but not at full strength as the COVID-19 variants were surging at the end of summer and the overall fair industry had not fully rebounded. This year’s fair “feels a little more normal,” she said.

Besides the traditional emphasis on amusement rides, agriculture and fair food – “The magical combination of what makes us who we are,” Jolliffe said – the fair has budgeted more on entertainment.

“By my calculations, we have more than 350 hours of live entertainment that’s included with gate admission,” Jolliffe said, noting the investment in grounds entertainment is “higher” than previous fairs.

That entertainment includes the Triple Crown Circus, which focuses on aerial artists (not animals). It will put on three shows a day with a seating capacity of 700 per show.

In addition, there will be a wide variety of musical acts – Motown, bluegrass, country, rock – and the biggest name on the bill, The Spinners, will close out the fair Oct. 2.

On the agriculture side, the fair has added a petting zoo and pony rides to help entertain kids while parents are checking out the traditional competitions.



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“Fair food,” of course, is an attraction – and sometimes a curiosity – all its own. This year’s fair will feature “Holy Macaroni” for customizing your own mac-and-cheese bowls (such as bacon-shrimp-crab mac and cheese, or, for the more restrained, veggie mac and cheese), as well as Polar Bear Ice Cream, along with frozen-bananas-on-a-stick and frozen-cheesecake-on-a-stick. Roasted corn on the cob with your choice of up to 22 different toppings and “pickle” iced tea. Other food fare will include Jamaican, Caribbean and soul dishes as well as a Brunswick stew vendor.

Logistically, for the first time, the fair is adding a walk-through weapons detection system.

“We’ve not had problems, but in our modern world, we want people to feel comfortable,” Jolliffe said.

As for admission, the fair incentivizes visitors to buy their tickets online. It’s less expensive – admission for fairgoers ages 5 and older online is $ 15 compared with $ 16 at the gate; an unlimited ride wristband (which does not include admission) is $ 30 online and $ 32 at the fair – and it saves time spent standing at a ticket booth after you arrive.



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Lin Tyler feeds the duck at the poultry exhibit at the State Fair of Virginia on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Virginia.


SHABAN ATHUMAN / TIMES-DISPATCH /



Like Lesley Russell, Richmonder Traci Garland is a regular contestant in the fair’s culinary competitions. She first became involved in 2016, the year after a friend had entered one of the contests and won a blue ribbon.

“I thought, ‘This could be fun,’” she recalled.

She had green tomatoes in her garden and her family had just been apple picking, so she made a green-tomato-and-apple chutney that she entered in the preserved foods category at the last minute. She won a blue ribbon and has been hooked ever since. She’s now won 10 ribbons over the years in various categories, and her 10-year-old daughter, Aileana, has gotten in on the action, winning second-place ribbons for sugar cookies and carrot cake.

This year, Garland plans to bake a peach coffeecake and a couple of jams – strawberry elderberry, and blueberry with lemon thyme – while her daughter will be submitting grasshopper cupcakes.

She enjoys the competition, drawing inspiration from the other contestants in terms of the ingredients they use and the names they give their creations: The more clever the names, the better, she’s learned.

The rush to make everything in the last few days before the fair is “one more thing in my busy life,” Garland said, “but it’s always worth it in the end. It’s always pretty exciting coming around the corner and seeing your jar of jam with a ribbon on it. “

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