OXFORD — Hundreds of students from as far away as Freeport, Lewiston, Jay and Waterford arrived early Wednesday morning for the annual Agricultural and Conservation Day program that kicks off the four-day Oxford County Fair.

The annual program, also referred to as Education Day, is developed by the Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District in Paris in cooperation with the Oxford County Agricultural Society, to teach students, who represent public, private and home schools, about agriculture and conservation.

“This is free,” said Darla Dunn Morrell of Mechanic Falls. “I can’t believe more schools don’t come in. I think this is so important — (students) learning things they could never learn in the classroom and getting fresh air and hands-on learning.” 

Dunn, who arrived with her grandson and two classmates from Elm Street Elementary School in tow just as the gate opened for the day at 8 a.m., said she felt strongly that taking the children out of school for the day for a learning opportunity like this was something they couldn’t pass up.

“Where else are they going to learn about forging and see a blacksmith shoe a horse?” she said.

The elementary school on Elm Street in Mechanic Falls, some six miles down the road, does not bring the children to the fair, so she said she will continue to do so.

The day, which is free for all students and their parents or support personnel, is traditionally set aside for children up to sixth grade to visit the fair and learn about agriculture and conservation — but a number of high school students from the Lewiston area, including Lewiston public schools and Leavitt Area High School in Turner, also spent the day at the fair learning about these topics.

This year’s theme, developed by personnel at the Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District was, “What Would You Like to Do When You Grow Up?”

Professionals from a number of careers, including agriculture education, ecology, engineering, entomology, farming, forestry, forest management, land trusts, landscape architecture, outdoor education and recreation and soil conservation, were available to talk to the children about their professions.

Support materials including grade-specific study materials to help prepare for the students’ visit to the fair and a list of books that relate to the subjects were made available to schools that registered with the Conservation District before the event.

The Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District has coordinated the day for more than 25 years, bringing new programming each year in and, in recent years, ensuring the programming meets the state’s “Learning Results” requirements.

The program brings in components that focus on science, math and social studies and other curriculum areas.

Sara Johnson, a social studies teacher from Woodstock Elementary School, said her students were learning about food from the ground up and how each step of the process meets the needs of the next.

Parent volunteer Brianna Vollmar said her students had a number of tasks to complete while at the fair, including finding out where their food comes from.

“We’re just having fun seeing what this wonderful fair has to offer,” she said while her daughter, Willow, and her friend, Della Merrill, waited for the pony ride to pick them up.

Students from an art class at Leavitt Area High School were drawing animals while those from the natural arts class were learning about the food process, including the role of vendors in getting food to the marketplace.

Danny Gay, a teacher from Lewiston who had a group of students in tow, said it gave his students a rare opportunity to see firsthand activities such as forging, which are related to their colonial studies.

In addition to the students who were visiting the fair, there were also scores of students, including those from Jay, Paris, Poland, West Paris and Oxford, who have taken time off from classes during the Oxford Fair week to show and sell their livestock.

The Oxford County Fair will continue Thursday with Community Day, featuring a special welcome to senior citizens at Dr. Larry Murch’s annual community luncheon, entertainment including the arrival of the Glidden Revival Tour featuring up to 200 pre-1943 cars, the popular pig scramble, harness racing and other activities.

Friday will feature Woodmen’s Day, the youth market and beef sale. Evening activities will include a demolition derby.

Saturday is Family Fun Day and 4-H Day, concluding with concerts featuring the Charlie Daniels Band and later, Skosh.

Fair officials say new attractions in 2016 include a smokehouse to cure ham, a beanhole bean pit, an area to demonstrate antique equipment, an antique engine show, a horse-drawn Ontario drill, wooden sleighs, a hay loader, horse-drawn vehicles and demonstrations of life in the 1800s.

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