West Miami-Dade

Miami-Dade County Fair is off and running

Miami’s 63rd annual county fair is back at Tamiami Park on Coral Way and Southwest 112th Avenue with a host of new rides, new food, and new exhibits every day from now until March 30.

Fair-goers can sample from over 170 concession stands, see close to 50,000 different student exhibits, and go on nearly 100 different rides.

“Most guests don’t realize that we in Miami-Dade County have the largest fair in the state of Florida,” said Bob Hohenstein, president of Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition Inc. “The Miami-Dade County Fair is the 31st largest fair in North America. It’s the biggest fair in 33 states.”

According Hohenstein, a larger fair has also meant a more generous one: The nonprofit that organizes the event each year has been able to give more back to the community.

“A few years ago we weren’t giving near $100,000 in scholarships. We have tried very diligently every year to increase the number of scholarships, to increase the number of cash premiums, to support the infrastructure here at Tamiami Park.”

Last year, the Fair gave out about $300,000 in academic prizes. This year, Hohenstein anticipates giving about $350,000.

But Hohenstein says that the fair also has adapted itself to consumer demands.

“We didn’t start selling beer until 2010,” he said. “And over the course of the past four fairs, we’ve seen that it works. We’re expanding that. This year we’re opening a craft beer and wine location. We’re selling sangria.”

New rides include the Backdraft, a fire-themed seven-car roller coaster for teens and adults; the Crazy Dance, a rotating platform on a 7.5-degree incline with spinning cars inside for riders; and the 7D Cinema, a seven-dimensional simulator promising to transport fair-goers to prehistoric eras and enchanted worlds. Perennial Fair ride favorites Twister, Ring of Fire, and Cliff Hanger and Space Roller will also all be featured at Tamiami.

Entertainment highlights include a performance by Wrestling Live stars on Friday on the main stage, a world-record breaking balloon stunt starring James Johnson, and a concert by Latin salsa superstars Albita and Willy Chirino at 7 p.m. March 22.

But the fair retains its original connection to agriculture. This year’s Fair will feature CowTown USA for the first time, a hands-on dairy cow exhibit run by longtime preservationist and educator Michael Sandlofer, his wife Sharon and daughter Benna.

Kids will be able to milk a cow, and make their own organic cheese, butter, and ice cream all the while learning that “we share the earth, and that we have a responsibility to animals and the planet,” according to Sandlofer.

Sandlofer hopes that by teaching kids about the interconnected cycles that create the food we consume, they’ll be more likely to appreciate and respect the fragility of our world and food supply.

“We focus on the dairy cow because it plays such an important role. She has to eat wholesome food, which comes from the soil — not dirt — which has to be rich in nutrients and minerals,” Sandlofer says. “It’s a sort of barometer for us. If the milk isn’t as plentiful, then the soil is lacking. It’s back to basics.”

On the other side of the agricultural tent, kids are learning the business and work of animal husbandry.

Felix Varela High School sophomore Alexa Grau, 16, is one of a handful local teens auctioning off steer they’ve been raising since this summer.

“It’s been a great experience, full of ups and down, but I’ve learned a lot about animal husbandry, and learned about how to medicate large animals.”

Grau, a former cheerleader with hopes to one day for go to the University of Florida for veterinary medicine bought a steer — Mayhem — with her quinceañera money and kept it at Felix Varela High, which has a veterinary program and stable.

Along with two other students, she took care of the steers each day, coming in as early as 6 a.m. when her shift was up. On weekdays they focused on the essentials — feeding, grooming, and dealing with medical issues like vaccinations, bloating, and de-worming. On weekends, they bonded.

“She was at school everyday! She loved it. Mom less, we hardly had a life,” said Grau’s mother.

General admission is $12, and free for all children 5 and under and adults 65 and over. Active and retired military personnel (with military ID) will receive a $6 discount for themselves and up to three guests. Because the fair has teamed up with the Miami Rescue Mission for a food drive, anyone bringing two cans of food will receive a $4 discount on general admission. Gates open at 3 p.m. weekdays and noon on weekends, and noon daily March 21-30.

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