'Bushels of Fun'

Aug. 31—RITZVILLE — In late summer and early fall, when county fairs are at their peak, the Wheat Land Communities' Fair can easily slip under the radar. There's no carnival, no big-name musical acts on the stage or clowns wandering the grounds. This year's theme is "Bushels of Fun," and that's what it offers.

"We're a small community fair serving the communities of (Ritzville), Lind, Washtucna and Benge," said Lori Williams, a volunteer and fair board member. The event used to be called the East Adams County Fair, but the name was changed in 1981 when the fair moved to its current location outside Ritzville. The fair has no staff, just a board of volunteers. It's grown in the last 42 years, according to its website, from a single building to 13 buildings and an amphitheater.

"We try to focus on celebrating our communities, celebrating our agricultural heritage and coming together for the weekend," Williams said. "It's kind of our main community event for the year, a weekend where the community can get together and celebrate the harvest that is just wrapping up."

"It's a small real hometown-feeling fair," said Lynette McMillan, the stock contractor for the Ritzville Rodeo, which takes place the same weekend. "It's really refreshing, you know. You go to the big fairs and stuff but Ritzville is very, I don't know what you call it, but ... it's sweet. I love it. I love my little fairs. We travel all over, all summer long, and Ritzville is one of my favorites."

Given the area's agricultural base, it's hardly surprising that the fair focuses heavily on 4-H and Future Farmers of America activities.

"Agricultural education is something that's near and dear to me," Williams said. "That is the purpose behind these fairs is to put agriculture in the spotlight, to see how we can interact and how it's just part of our everyday life. We take pride in our agricultural exhibits, our field crops, the youth livestock exhibits, and just how everything can be tied back to agriculture."

Besides the sheep, steers, goats, rabbits and poultry being shown, there's a gymkhana, an archery demonstration and other homegrown entertainment. Thursday evening there's a youth dance called the Showring Shuffle and a Jackpot Playday at the rodeo arena. Friday there will be two shows by Bugs 'n Snakes, a traveling show from Spokane that lets kids get up close and personal with all kinds of creatures, from lizards to salamanders to spiders.

Saturday there's a kiddie parade in downtown Ritzville at 10:45 a.m., followed by the big parade at 11. There will also be demonstrations and activities throughout the day, including a fashion review and bungee jumping, and performances by local band Big Dawg and the Howlers.

No fair would be complete without food and vendors, and the Wheat Land Communities' Fair certainly has those. There will be booths offering clothing, jewelry and other merchandise, as well as a number of informational booths.

For food, there's tacos and teriyaki, homemade popcorn balls and elephant ears, along with a host of other offerings. Many of the local civic groups sell food at the fair as their biggest fundraiser of the year, Williams said.

"We try to offer a wide variety without duplicating," she said. "We have, obviously, burgers. Roast beef and cheddar is one of the popular ones. Our Lions Club does roasted chicken. You can buy it by the half."

Because of the region's German heritage, the Lions Club also offers something called a kraut runza, Williams said.

"It's basically a German Hot Pocket," she said. "It's hamburger and cabbage in a bread pocket."

Sunday fairgoers will have a chance to bet on the Cow Pie Raffle, to benefit the Ritzville Livestock 4-H Club. Participants will buy a ticket for $10 that corresponds to one of 100 squares in a grid on the ground. Two calves will then be turned loose on the grid, and wherever one of them does its business, whoever bought that square wins a prize.

"I grew up here in Ritzville and in the same club, we did the Cow Pie Raffle raffle," Williams said. "It's just something we are excited to continue almost 40 years later."

Joel Martin may be reached via email at jmartin@columbiabasinherald.com.