Agriculture and the life styles of rural America were the central themes at the Montgomery County Fair last week.

Livestock exhibitions and auctions, canning contests, quilting shows and the coronation of a 4-H Queen drew a record breaking crowd of 350,000 to the county's 29th annual fair, which ended Saturday.

Visitors viewed 22,000 exhibits inmore than 1,000 categories put on by 6,500 craftsmen and agricultural specialists. When they weren't visiting stalls and riding the midway's amusement thrills, they were eating. During the week visitors devoured a total of 11,300 pounds of meat, 1,500 pounds of dairy products and more than 15,000 pounds of vegetables and fruit at concession stands operated by five area churches. They ate corn at the rate of about 150 dozen ears a day.

A total of $5,000 in prize money was awarded in equestrian events which attracted 349 riders. The largest volume of animals ever sold at the fair was auctioned off at prices raging from $250 to $1,500. And rabbit breeders from 12 states were on hand to view stock for commercial and fancy breeding.

Typical of some of the fair's entrants was Michael M. Moore, who estimates he's attendd some 25 fairs in his 16 years. He's also won his share of prizes as one of the county's best senior 4-H judges of sheep and goats. But Moore said he was never so excited as when his 11-year-old brother Jamie's dairy goat won grand champion.

"We've been wanting something like this to happen for years," he said excitedly.

Dairy goat judging became a fair event three years ago with the help of Moore's father and other members of the ocunty's 4-H Dairy Goat Club.

"We thought this would be good as a teaching tool," explained Mark Moore. "A lot of these kids live on two and three acres and they can't have a goat."

The animals are also big business, he said. Top dairy goats sell for as much as $6,000.

Quality and the competitive spirity to "do the best we could" was evident throughout the fair. In tthe 4-H Home Arts Building, '4-H queen Eydie Gregory, 18, guided visitors on a tour of the 3.023 exhibits made by 4-H youth.

"I've live in Montgomery County 14 years, and I don't remember missing a fair," she said. Throughout the year Gregory will preside over 4-H events and reign as queen at the Labor Day Parade in Gaithersburg.

The goal of Steve Haynes, a 19-year-old 4-H'er, is to become an entomologist. He has collected over 1,000 specimens and earned a reputation as the county's leading 4-H entomologist. His grand collection was on exhibit along with those of 18 othe 4-H entomologists he has guided over the past three years.

"I've been in 4-H 10 years, at the fair 10 years and I've won everything I can win in 4-H," said Haynes "But that's not the whole purpose. I want to educate the public and let them know what's around them. I also want to help little kids."

Haynes mentioned the work of Jill Hudson, the junior grand champion. "She's the best. She's only 8 years old, and I can almost guarantee she'll be better than me," he said.

Over at the Home Arts exhibition area ther were 4,000 exhibits. Top exhibitor was Mrs. Robert Delauder with 32 first places in canning, an activity she began three years ago.

Diana Hanson took grand champion for her fancy cake shaped like a box of roses, each rose and leaf hand-turned individually.

Across the way was a "farmer's paradise," the Old McDonald Farm exhibit, where beealo, buffalo, appaloosas, racoons, quail, goats, sheep, rare birds and poultry were on view. Over at the Old Timer's Show exhibits haven't changed for years. Spinning wheels, crock churns, grape seeders, wood pumps, oil lamps, antique engines and smoothing irons are some of the 500 items that have been standard displays for the 15 years the exhibit has existed.

The fair, billed as "one of the best east of the Mississippi" by the Association of State and County Fairs, really hasn't changed much in its 29 years, according to its president W. I. "Billy" King, except that "It's bigger and attracts more city people.

"My daddy was superintendent of all the buildings here, and he was on the first board of directors," he said, "My children and grandchildren have shown here, and I was on the committee to start it.

"A group of us boys and girls got together under the guidance of W.R. Winslow and O.W. Anderson. We went on a drive to buy land. We sold junk, sod, anything anybody would give us. But the most important thing was free labor."

Voklunteer labor constructed all of the fair bbuildings, acccording to King.

Several of the entrants, like King, have deep roots in the fair's traditions. Gloria Barnsley, daughter-in-law of the fair's first president, was making her first cathedral window quilt at the Home Arts exhibit. She's a former grand champion, after winning blue ribbons for her apple dolls six years in a row.

"She had so many championships, we almost outlawed her coming," said Bettie White, superintendent of the exhibit.

Brucie Bassler, 18, of the Howard County judging team, said she's been "coming to the fair since she was a baby.

"I'm from a Gurnsey farm and I married into the Brown Swiss," she said explaining her mixed herd of 41 Gurnsey and Brown Swiss cows.

Nearby the Navy's Country Current band began playing while Bassler watered her herd. Both she and her animals seemed to be enjoying the country music, which signaled the fair's final night.