With corn stalks tall and tasseled, and the days getting a little shorter, August and the end of summer has arrived. Summer's exit is accompanied by country fairs, and Pennsylvania’s Americana Region is home to two of the oldest fairs in the state.
The 163rd Reading Fair, Aug. 6-12, is the oldest fair in Berks County and the second oldest in Pennsylvania. It's an authentic, old-time country fair with an emphasis on the region’s agricultural roots. George Wagner, president of the Agricultural and Horticultural Association of Berks County, the organization that runs the fair, describes the event as a three-ring circus that focuses on agriculture, the fair’s racing legacy, and its nearly 30 rides, all for $15. ($10 a person for those who purchase tickets on the fair’s website — thereadingfair.org — before opening day) Entry is free for children 36 inches tall and under.
Less than a week before the fair opened, Wagner provided a history and preview of the fair, which began on Penn Square in Reading and later moved to the Muhlenberg Township fairgrounds, where it gained its reputation for attracting some of the biggest names in dirt track racing. For the past 17 years, the fairs have been held on a 40-acre, county-owned site in Bern Township.
“The single biggest industry in Berks County is agriculture, and it’s well represented at the Reading Fair,” Wagner says. “Pole barns and show rings are filled with dairy and beef cattle and goats, sheep, pigs and rabbits and judging of the livestock.”
Education is a big emphasis, but there’s also a good measure of fun to further engage kids about farm life, including egg tosses and milk-chugging contests. “The other big thing is our agri-cation display, an education center in an RV that’s staffed with teachers and sponsored by the Berks County Farm Bureau, with lab tables to learn about farming and hands-on activities such as making crayons from soybeans,” Wagner says. For those who want to learn more, there’s a footbridge over to the neighboring Berks County 4-H Center, plus other exhibits dedicated to hay, grains and vegetables and an antique tractor tent and parade.
In the second “ring,” the fair will present racing and track events every night — from go karts to truck and tractor pulls — and feature classic Reading Fairgrounds cars taking laps around the track. The third ring is all about the rides and the array of food and nightly entertainment in the beer garden. “The big draw is a combination of all three,” says Wagner, noting that the fair draws between 25,000 and 30,000 people. “My favorite event is the Mardi Gras, where youth who show their animals will dress up with them for a judged contest.” The 163rd Reading Fair is at 1216 Hilltop Road in Bern Township. For hours and information, visit thereadingfair.org.
If you can't make the Reading Fair, the 146th Kutztown Fair will be held August 14-19 at the Kutztown Fairgrounds, 450 Wentz St., Kutztown. This year will mark the second annual 4-H Roundup Sale, featuring the sale of market steers, hogs, lambs and goats and grand champion and reserve grand champion judging. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights will feature small car racing and air-conditioned Beltzner Hall will have needlecraft and displays of homegrown sweet corn and other summer vegetables, flowers and baked goods throughout the fair.
“Of course, we have rides for the kids and just about any food you can think of, including two local granges serving Pennsylvania Dutch food,” says Ron Miller, fair president. “Tony’s steaks, which has been here for decades, is always popular.” Kutztown Fair, which draws about 35,000 people, also has a beer garden, vintage stock car racing, music and entertainment, and games.“Just seeing people react to the animals and having fun on the rides, that’s what I enjoy seeing every year,” Miller says.
Admission is $10 per person for unlimited rides, stage shows, midway shows and grandstand shows, except Wednesday night racing. For more information, visit www.kutztownfairgrounds.com.