That famous poem inscribed on Lady Liberty might read, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," but it's fair season in America, and such negativity just won't do.

Instead, as the days and the crops of summer continue to lengthen and grow apace, it's time to say: Give me your prettiest and your plumpest; your longest, strongest, fastest and your most agile; your tastiest and your flakiest, and bring them all on down to the fairgrounds, where that traditional summertime ritual, whose roots lie in the most American of all pastimes -- showing off -- is about to begin.

From now until early October, state, county and local fairs abound. What this means is simple. Baldfaced pride over what you have produced or how well you can do something is temporarily no longer a vice, but a virtue.

Take a little trip to one of the many close-in and far-flung country fairs the region has to offer, and what you'll find (along with stomach-churning rides and an assortment of deep-fried and sugary snacks) is, in essence, a different kind of shock and awe. Whether it's over the size of a tomato or the girth of a prizewinning pig, a beautiful baby or the size of the tires on a monster truck, the amount of lemon meringue pie someone can stuff into his or her face in less than 10 minutes or, well, other skills too eccentric to categorize, the fair is about strutting your stuff.

The fair of today may be many things: circus, amusement park, food festival. It certainly has evolved a little (okay, a lot, especially in the Washington area) from its origins as a rural celebration of nature's bounty. But it's still, in its strange and wonderful heart, one thing. That's a place for people -- be they writers, gardeners, farmers, beauty queens, competitive eaters, wine-makers, artists, gymnasts, bakers, karaoke singers or craftspeople -- to have their moment in the sun. In short, to shine.

Here's our annual guide to where you can catch that glow, starting with a few fairs you can even visit this weekend.

Samantha Nagurny, then 14, leads Mariah the cow after her presentation at last year's Fairfax County 4-H Fair and Farm Show at Frying Pan Park. Mariah was named the grand champion dairy cow at the fair, which this year is scheduled for Aug. 6-7. Richard Morales Jr., then 17 months, of Triangle, Va., competes in a baby contest at the Prince William County Fair last year. Victory is sweet for T.W. Buckler, whose sweet potatoes took first place at the St. Mary's County Fair in Leonardtown last year. Competitions play a big role in today's fairs.