Natural Perspectives: Centennial Farm at fair is fun, educational

Vic and I spent a fantastic day at the Orange County Fair this past Sunday. We went with our son Scott, his wife, Nicole, and their three preschoolers, Allison, Lauren and Megan. This was the girls' first visit to the O.C. Fair, although they've attended the San Diego County Fair at Del Mar in the past.

We made Centennial Farm our first destination, because of the large variety of farm animals there. I asked the girls what they wanted to see most at the fair.

"I want to see a pig's heinie," announced 5-year-old Lauren.

"Yes," Allison, her twin sister, agreed. "They're funny."

I must confess, I've never found any humor in a pig's back end. But if that's what the girls wanted to see, that's where we would go. However, we started with the dairy cattle because they were the first animals the girls saw. Centennial Farm maintains a small herd of Holsteins so schoolchildren can see milking demonstrations throughout the year.

The girls got to pet a Jersey cow. That is one of the milking breeds of cattle. But most of the milking herd at Centennial Farm is made up of Holsteins, probably because they produce the most milk per cow. At the milking demonstration, we learned that the cows are milked twice a day and produce about 10 gallons of milk a day.

The little girls were fascinated by the newly hatched baby chicks in a brooder. But the hens in the large enclosure were no big deal for them because their Papa Tom and Nana Patty in San Diego and their Papa Vic and Nana Lou maintain laying hens that they can pet and feed. The girls know which greens to pull from my garden to feed our hens, and they insist on doing that first thing when they come to visit us. Gathering eggs is second, and picking produce from my garden rounds out their visit to our tiny backyard farmlet.

But they had never petted a baby chick. They got that opportunity at the fair. One of the volunteers held a baby chick for children to pet. The girls wanted to pet everything. They found the Angora goats and sheep cooperative in that regard, and they enjoyed feeling the wool. But the Holstein calves were resting out of their reach, and so were the llamas, rabbits and pigs.

One sow had given birth to two little piglets during the fair. The baby pigs were in their creep, which is a safe wooden enclosure in the corner of the pen that prevents the sow from rolling over on them and crushing them. Out of the three adult sows, one had her backside aimed at the crowd.

"Piggy's heinie!" squealed Lauren. Both twins covered their mouths and giggled. The adults in the area were greatly amused.

One of the great things about Centennial Farm is that it maintains a nice variety of farm animals and grows such a wide variety of crops. It is committed to teaching children about agriculture. Children can learn where their food comes from during the tours that volunteers offer throughout the year on weekday mornings. From 1 to 4 p.m., the farm is free and open to the public for self-guided tours on days where there is no fairground-wide event. The farm is also open and free from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays if no major event is going on.

After Centennial Farm, we stayed with the animal theme. The next stop was pony rides. After a few trips around the small track, the three girls became comfortable enough to loosen their death grips on the saddlehorns and pet the ponies that they were riding. As soon as the ride was over, they wanted to go again. But there was a lot more fair to see and much more to do.

We headed to the produce competition to see how my entries had done. Each week, there is a new produce competition. Knowing that our granddaughters would be coming, I entered four different categories: onions, squash, radishes and mizuna, which is a Japanese mustard green. One by one, we found the entries. My radish and mizuna entries each garnered a second-place ribbon. I had entered a pair of beautiful miniature blue Hubbard squash, but they were rightfully beaten out by larger and more beautiful specimens. Same with the onions.

After a delicious lunch of barbecued Western sausage and corn on the cob from the Outlaw Grill, we visited the photo exhibit. Vic hadn't seen his photo of three wild tom turkeys hanging at the fair yet. Given the incredibly intense competition in animal photos at the fair, he was very proud just to have a photo accepted and hanging. I felt the same way about my two pictures. But 3-year-old Megan was disappointed and asked in a very loud voice how come our photos didn't win a prize. We got a lot of laughs from the crowd around us about that one.

We could hardly get the girls past the exhibit of decorated cakes in the cooking competition. They plastered themselves against the glass, drooling over the beautiful confections that lay just out of their reach. We decided that a sweet snack was called for, and as everyone knows, that's easy to find at the fair. Ice cream cones and Texas donuts satisfied our sweet tooth. Or is that sweet teeth? All I know is that my pancreas flipped over and just about went into failure over that giant donut.

The midway offered seemingly endless opportunities to throw away money in exchange for a chance at winning a prize. Lauren and Allison got lucky, and each won a giant stuffed animal.

At 3, Megan just couldn't compete successfully with all the older children playing the midway games. To help heal her disappointment, we took her to the Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks booth. There, every child wins a little prize for tossing beanbags at a target. But it wasn't quite enough for her.

I solved the problem by buying Megan an automatic bubble shooter from a vendor as we were exiting the fair. All three children left with a prized toy. More importantly, they'll carry away great memories of the fair and our agricultural heritage that we hope will last a lifetime.


On another topic, Vic and I want to extend our best wishes to Stan Cohen on his retirement after 17 years of writing his opinion column "Nobody asked me, but…" in a rival paper.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

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