At the entrance of the Cleburne County Fair, the bleating of sheep punctuates the music being pumped out of giant speakers.
Next to the sheep, chickens, three to a cage, awaited judging and the silent auction that will determine their new homes. Just a few steps away, canned pickles, tomato products, vegetables, jellies and relishes adorn shelves at the Alabama Cooperative Extension tent.
The second annual Cleburne County Fair at Ross Mountain Adventures, on Alabama 9 south of I-20, Saturday showed off the county’s small-town rural roots not only in its shows and contests — which also included a greased pig chase and a fiddle contest — but also in its food. People wandered the fairgrounds while eating bags of boiled peanuts, fried pies and watermelon along with traditional fair foods such as funnel cakes, hot dogs and hamburgers.
And the fair offered plenty to see. Tickled Pink Petting Zoo gave children and adults the opportunity to get up close and personal with some animals they may never have seen before, said Bill Segrest, manager of the farm.
The animals, goats, rabbits, hedgehog and a baby zebu cattle to name a few, are tame and don’t mind being petted, Segrest said.
The favorites among the children are always the rabbits and the tortoise, he said.
“Everybody loves to ride the tortoise,” Segrist said.
Sharon Jackson, an elder with the Creek nation, was working at an exhibit about Cleburne County’s Native American heritage. The exhibit included maps of the Native American villages in the area, ears of purple corn that the Native Americans would have grown, tools and people anxious to talk about their ancestry. It used to be taboo, Jackson said.
“A lot of people have Native American heritage around here,” she said. “We want people to understand it’s OK if you’re part Native American.”
A few tents down, David Robinson of Heflin was making steel nails as a blacksmith would have made them 100 years ago. It’s a hobby born of a desire to be independent, he said.
“My wife and I talked about it and we want to be more self-sufficient,” Robinson said. “I aim to make most of my stuff.”
While many of the younger people at the fair may have never seen a blacksmith work, some of the older ones tell him they remember running the blower for their grandfather as he blacksmithed, Robinson said.
Over the lunchtime hours, probably the most popular place at the fair was the food tent. People squeezed in beside strangers at picnic tables to eat their pizza slices, fish and fries and burgers in the shade within a stone’s throw of the stage. To the beat of the Ranburne and Cleburne County high school bands, they talked and laughed through their meal.
Carolyn Baumann, 67, a recent transplant to Anniston from Florida, said she was having a good time. She said she’d been to fairs in Florida that were bigger, but she liked this one more.
“This is all family operated,” Baumann said. “I love it.”
As the animal judging started, young 4-H members stood near their caged chickens, anxiously waiting for the judge to reach them. Erin Henry, 10, of Anniston had three Barred Plymouth Rock hens that she had chosen to show. The judge peppered her with questions as he examined each one of her hens. What kind of feed did you use? Which one of the three is your favorite? Why?
She answered each question and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when the judge moved on to the next cage. But she said she was excited to have the chance to show them.
“It was pretty fun getting to raise them,” Erin said. “They do a lot of funny stuff. It’s kind of fun watching them do their funny things.”
She said she learned a lot in this first attempt to raise chickens through the Cleburne County 4-H Chick Chain. She got them in April when they were just two days old and has fed, watered and even nursed some through illnesses. She’d like to do it again, Erin said.
“If I could,” she said.
Staff Writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872 in Heflin, 256-235-3545 in Anniston. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.