The Ventura County Fair is like a meadow



By Tim Pompey

This is my fourth year covering the Ventura County Fair, and every year I wonder if I’m going to find something different.

The fair is like a meadow. If you return often enough, you’ll notice what’s always there and you’ll notice things missing. There are subtle things, and I think that’s the way people like it. The routine is a must. You’ve got to have the fair you came for. The meadow must look like the meadow. But some things are not there that you might expect, and other things just pop up like little flowers. They make you stop and pay attention.

For instance, Pinks Hot Dogs is missing. Giant python guy isn’t here. But I said hello to my friends Prince Bernard the steel drum player and Damon the caricature artist, both of whom I’ve interviewed in the past.

Food and drink come in all shapes and sizes at the Ventura County Fair.

The All Alaskan Racing Pigs are here, and of course, there are exhibits full of sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits, horses and many other family favorites. You catch what’s there, you catch the daily schedule and it’s still the fair. Noisy, joyous, full of vendors, singers, drummers, stilt people, and of course, the hypnotist Tina Marie, whom I dare not approach. Must-not-sleep.

As for new stuff, when I arrive Saturday morning, it’s foggy. A welcome change for August. With the recent heat wave, it means I’ll survive a few hours in the great outdoors.

The other change is in my diet. As I get older, there are fewer fair items I can eat. I must pass by the giant turkey legs and the numerous barbeque stands. I can’t sample the Mackinac Island Fudge or donut holes or funnel cake or frozen chocolate bananas or kettle corn or ice cream or pizza. I settle for a polish dog with mustard and one churro.

A large quantity of baked goods is a sore temptation to my calorie counting self.

But it’s fun to smell and remember way back when I used to come here and eat. A lot. No one I pass feels sorry for me, and that’s okay. I tell them in my mind, Enjoy it while you can. It’s a great place to feast. But someday, man, that cholesterol will bite you.

I’m wandering looking for a purpose, and I find it almost immediately in the Home Arts building. I come across the good ladies of Strings & Things Studio located in midtown Ventura. They specialize in knitting, sewing, and crochet classes.

Strings & Things in midtown Ventura features knitting, sewing, and crochet classes. Featured here (l to r): Flo Carcia, Karin Wilmoth (co-owner), Kaity Fraker (co-owner), Stephanie Scott, Marianne Chard

“We’re here to demonstrate knitting and crocheting, which is what we teach at the studio,” said co-owner Kaity Fraker. “We’re here to spread the word about the craft in the community and encourage people to get into it.”

Apparently, there’s a demand for this craft, a renewal of interest in an old-world practice.

“We are busy,” Fraker affirmed. “We teach classes and we also host drop in times during the week where people can just come in, hang out, and get help with their questions.”

Think of their Ventura studio as a gathering place for sewers. It’s like 19th century America is raising its creative self again to once again enthrall the community.

And so the idea comes to me that the fair is a place for workers of all sorts—professionals, hobbyists, competitors, florists, agriculturists. They’ve come to show their wares and the fair is their gathering point. If you have a profession or a club or just a passion for an idea, this is the place to display it.

For instance, as I walk into the Youth Expo building, I come upon an exhibit for Tapigami. What, you may ask, is tapigami? Simply put, it’s the art of turning masking tape into art. All you need is . . . masking tape. The rest is explained by founding artist Danny Scheible, both online and in his books.

The high art of masking tape has been developed by artist Danny Scheible. Fellow artist Eben Burgoon poses here (sort of) with his prized Tapigami friends.

No kidding. There’s an extensive display of Tapigami structures that have literally come from all over the world: California, Italy, Lithuania, England, Berlin, China, and Africa to name a few countries and continents. It’s as simple and as complicated as learning to fold and mold a piece of masking tape into whatever you can imagine.

“We travel around the world teaching people how to look at art as an accessible and affordable art material,” said Eben Burgoon, who’s hosting the tapigami city this morning. “And then they’re invited to add to an ever-growing city that travels around the world so that they can also say they’re international artists.”

A city made of tape? Yeah, a very imaginative city, not one you’d typically find off a California freeway.

As Burgoon explained, Scheible wanted to create a medium rather than more art. “By creating a medium that was really affordable, it makes it hyper accessible.”

In other words, anyone can do it, even fumble fingers like me.

Walking through the Commercial building, there are plenty of people hard at work, but a couple of vendors catch my eye.

The White Llama is owned by Peruvian native Raul Osorio. As I see him working with a customer, I am struck by how he sits in the middle of a wall full of Peruvian tapestries swirling with color.

Raul Osorio, the owner of White Llama, shares his love of Peruvian weaving and tapestry.

Raul moved to California in 1990 and had to decide what to do with his life. He chose to share his Peruvian culture with fellow Californians.

“I decided to bring items from the Andes in Peru, and that was the beginning,” he recalled.

He started with jewelry and eventually expanded to include everything from purses to clothing. The tapestries are made by master weavers from the ancient Peruvian weaving traditions.

“They have their own looms and they do their own designs,” he said. “They do replicas of Incan textiles.”

Asked why he comes here all the way from San Bernardino, he responded, “I love this venue. I’ve been coming here for twenty years.” He shares a broad smile and adds, “They’re good people here.”

From Peru to Brooklyn, I discover Brooklyn Charm, owned by Tracie Culley. It’s a jewelry and charm shop that allows the customer to make their own design. Culley is local to Oxnard, but her story is one of both love and art and artistic adaptation.

Tracie Culley started her charm design shop called Brooklyn Charm in Brooklyn, NY and has now returned to her home roots in Ventura County with a shop in downtown Ventura.

“I moved to the East Coast to join my boyfriend, now husband, while he went to school, and we went to New York very soon after he graduated,” she recounted. “I was working in a lot of bead stores and craft stores and I started doing independent artists and markets.”

What she discovered is that what’s big on the West Coast is not popular on the East Coast. She was forced to make jewelry that she could sell, even if it didn’t suit her own personal tastes. This was frustrating until she hit upon an idea.

“I decided to let you make it your own,” she said. “If I’m going to have to put out necklaces, it might as well be something that makes me excited because now I can do something special for them that’s unique, one of a kind, and that was the shift that happened from just selling jewelry to putting out all the supplies.”

The customer can choose to let her make a design, or they can take it home and do their own.

“We help design it for them and then we put it together for them, and then if they want to take it home and do it, they’re welcome to.”

It’s a popular idea, as customer traffic indicates. Culley is also expanding to other festivals in the Southern California area. She’s also international, with a shop open in Japan and one that recently opened in Denmark. Then there’s the Brooklyn Charm shop right here in downtown Ventura. Local girl. World traveler.

One of the unique things about the fair is that it still maintains its agricultural and farm roots. Fully half the fair is taken up with animal exhibits, horticulture, livestock auctions, plus those adorable Alaskan pigs.

My focus today is on the goats. Now, there’s something about goats that makes me smile. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re cute, smart, or evil geniuses. Maybe all the above. One thing’s for sure, the fair has a lot of goats and sheep.

I meet Anna Sorensen from Simi Valley, who was introduced to goat raising as a young girl. Now she raises prize winning Nubian goats. one of which she is showing off to me as a grand and reserve champion.

If you’re wondering about goats existing in Simi Valley, she assures me, “We live up in the Bridle Path.” Plenty of room for horses and goats.

How does a young girl get started in the goat business? “When we moved into our house, one of our friends gave me two goats,” she stated. “She introduced me into 4H.”

And why goats?

“It’s just fun to have them. It’s fun to bring them to the shows. I do horses, too, and chickens and dogs, so I do a lot of different shows, but I like raising the goats and bringing them to the fair.”

I comment about a goat’s natural intelligence, to which she quips: “The dumbest goat is smarter than the smartest dog.”

I don’t dare ask her to compare a goat’s intelligence to us humans.

Asked about what she would like to do with her life, she answers, of course, “Veterinarian medicine.”

No surprise there. Smart goat. Smart girl. Seems like a good match.

This grand champion Dorset sheep is getting a trim from its owner, Laura Colbert, of Bakersfield.

As I walk through this cavernous building, I meet Laura Colbert who is trimming her supreme champion sheep, a Dorset who just happens to have his head in a metal vice to keep him still. I can’t help but think of a T-shirt with this picture that would say: “I’m a grand champion and this is my big reward.”

On the other hand, I stop and pet a beautiful Percheron horse named Gunner who is owned by Cabral Percherons from Turlock, California. He’s dressed for show, but when I ask what he does, his tender says simply, “He works.”

Uhhh, I have the feeling he’s speaking of Percherons in general. Gunner looks like he’s the king of his domain. He’s taller than me and weighs in at about 1,800 pounds. When I brush him, he takes a polite step away. He may be a work horse, but he has his pride, and I don’t have a backstage pass. Even horses know when they got it.

Finally, as I work my way to the Agricultural building, I meet Chelsey McKelvy and Maggie Kimball from the Ventura County Chapter of the California Women for Agriculture. They represent the large number of women here in the County who are working diligently on their farms and ranches.

“California Women for Agriculture is a statewide organization,” said McKelvey. “This is the Ventura County chapter. It’s really women who are interested in agriculture, involved directly, indirectly, getting together to make sure that issues are discussed, and information is getting disseminated.”

When asked for a common example of women in agriculture, McKelvey recites, “Women farmers, women ranchers, women who grow avocados, lemons, field crops, hay, berries, horses, even mushrooms.”

McKelvey insists that “women support agriculture, bottom line.”

She said emphatically, “Most people think of it as a burley man’s job, but women can get in there and do it, too.”

Kimball noted how the movement was started by women in Ventura County.

Chelsey McKelvy and Maggie Kimball of the Ventura County Chapter of California Women for Agriculture provide resources and information for women involved in agricultural pursuits.

“There were a lot of women who were involved in agriculture and they were supporting their husbands, doing work in the fields themselves, in the orchards or elsewhere, and then there are all these other industries that support agriculture, like banking, pest control, all kinds of things that women are involved with.”

They also offer an educational component for teachers. “We have scholarships both for ag in the classroom and we help educate teachers, and then they bring that education into their classrooms.”

So, for this trip, I found lots of working people, both volunteers and professionals. It takes a whole darn city and county to run this thing. The meadow may look organized, but all the parts to make it that way are working up front and behind the scenes.

It’s a beautiful thing, this work. Once a year it comes to entertain us. That’s why people keep coming back. All these workers need an audience, and people to write about it. I’m just happy I can be part of the crowd.

I had my first encounter with a beautiful Percheron horse owned by Carbral Percherons from Turlock, CA.

Smoky dropped by and gave me a thumbs up.

Photo Credits: Tim Pompey

Tim Pompey, a freelance writer who has done lots of local affairs and entertainment/cultural writing, lives in Oxnard. Tim is also a fiction writer (Facebook Page). You can learn about his books on

Mr. Pompey’s Newest Book:  Mrs. Parsley and the Tale of Mossel’s Farm

Mrs. Parsley loves to tell stories to children. In her little house in Okafor, Florida, she writes them herself. Then, in a twist from her own past, Mrs. Parsley and her young friend Terence go on an adventure to rescue children held captive at the Mossel’s farm deep in the Big Cypress Swamp. Down the Blue Pole Road, across the Midnight Ferry, past the Milky White Magnolia Trail, and through the Crossing of the Gnome, magic, danger, and a wee bit of fun await them as they carry out their mission. Who will travel with Mrs. Parsley as she reclaims her past and discovers a new future—for Terence, for the captured children, for herself?

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