One look at Jennifer Brewer's dining room table tells visitors all they need to know about preparing for the Howard County Fair.
The table in the Brewers' Ellicott City home is buried under measuring tapes, scissors, thread and swatches and swatches of material. The 18-year-old, racing to complete no fewer than five outfits for fair competitions that begin this weekend, long ago ran out of space in her sewing room.
"The house is always a wreck the week before the fair," Brewer said.
Brewer is one of 450 4-H members expected to participate in the 45th annual Howard County Fair. And she may be among the most overachieving of the young overachievers.
Not only is she helping to organize and compete in several fashion contests and demonstrations, but Brewer is readying her two rabbits -- Solomon and Pumpkin -- for shows and is coordinating the bicycle competition.
"I think I have something to run every day of the fair," Brewer said.
Organizers hope that more than 80,000 visitors will attend the eight-day event, which opens Saturday.
What visitors are likely to see is a fair that is proudly clinging to its agricultural roots, resisting the temptation to be suburbanized like much of the rest of the county, said Dale Hough, president of the fair's organizing committee.
"There's not a whole lot new or different about this fair than fairs of the past," Hough said. "We have tried very hard to keep the focus of this fair on agricultural education."
The county fair will include all the trappings of a country get-together. There will be pie-eating contests, livestock shows and competitions to pick everything from the cutest baby to the best-tasting cake.
The fair's midway probably will be the most crowded attraction. Open until about 11 p.m. most nights, it will have amusement rides, concessions and glad-handing politicians.
The fairgrounds are off Route 144 in western Howard County, just west of Route 32. Fair admission is $3 a day for visitors 12 and older. Children younger than 12 are admitted free. And adults older than 62 pay $2.
Many of the county's farming families take their participation in the fair quite seriously. It is a chance to secure bragging rights for farm produce and livestock for the coming year. For example, the Roland H. Mullinix and Son seed and fertilizer company proudly included a picture of the family's 1989 Reserve Grand Champion Steer in its advertisement in the fair brochure this year.
Brewer doesn't live on a farm -- her family owns about 3 acres near Ellicott City -- but she takes her participation in the fashion competitions very seriously.
Brewer hopes someday to earn a living designing and making children's clothes. She already has demonstrated the business acumen to be a success. A tote bag she designed was so popular that a word-of-mouth business netted her $1,000 last year.
"The bag is big, with quilted sides. And I made it with real sturdy straps," Brewer said. "I saw all the stuff my mom had to carry to work every day, so I knew the straps had to be strong."
Brewer expects to do well in the fashion competitions, but she is not sure about how her rabbits will fare.
"Ordinarily, I think they would do pretty well. But right now, they are molting or shedding their fur for a new coat . . . . That's not so good as far as the competition is concerned," she said.