Carolyn Kulp grew up entering her baking and sewing in the Howard County Fair. Her 15-year-old daughter Felicia has done the same. Last year, Felicia entered her baking, needlework, home-canned watermelon rind and cherries -- plus a cartoon sketch of a doe-eyed girl in a bikini, in the Japanese animation category.
"The style makes it Japanese -- big, exaggerated eyes and very angular jaw lines, elongated necks, the noses are pointy," said Felicia, a sophomore at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City. "I used to like the Cartoon Network show 'Sailor Moon,' and it started from that."
It's not Felicia's mother's fair anymore. And nobody realizes that better than Carolyn Kulp, who is superintendent of the home arts department at the Howard County Fair, which opens Saturday and runs until Aug. 13.
"We do try to go along traditional lines," Kulp said, but Japanese animation, called manga, "is all the rage in the high schools, so I thought, 'If this is what the kids are interested in, let's do it.' "
Traditionally, exhibits by county 4-H club members have been the lifeblood of the fair. But today, more of the club's 750 members live in subdivisions than on farms, and the number of rabbit-breeders rivals that of the cattle-feeders. Many fairgoers know more about mowing lawns than hay and don't know a hen from a cockerel.
So every show barn and exhibit hall on Fairground Road must adapt to newcomers' tastes, especially since the fair, which is held in West Friendship, relies on local ticket sales to break even. As they gear up for the event's 60th year, fair organizers are striking a balance between meat and potatoes and frizzle-feathered chickens, herb displays and digital art.
"When people think 4-H, they think of kids raising animals. But now they try to do things for the kids on a half acre in Columbia," said Bettina Catalano, the fair's secretary-treasurer. "They have rocketry now and computers. They'll always have baking. But now, boys enter."
Richard Holmes, who has been a poultry judge for 41 fair seasons, once sat Solomon-like in his green booth, arbiter of the finest points of chicken conformation. Now, some who seek his wisdom have seen chickens only on TV.
"The county fair level is the kindergarten of the fancy show-chickens business," said Holmes, 73, of Elkridge. And so, "in essence, I'm the chicken answer man."
"One of the first things I have to straighten the public out on is, chickens are chickens," he said. "But a female over a year old is called a hen and under a year, a pullet. A male under a year is a cockerel and over a year is a cock bird."
So what is a rooster?
"A cock bird is a rooster," Holmes said, all patience.
As Martha Stewart promotes exotic live chickens as garden ornaments, Holmes sees more boutique breeds in the fair -- or at least more people asking about them.
There are more than 400 types of show chickens, and Holmes knows them all. Among the most popular, he said, "are the Silkie chickens, from Japan and China. Their feathers are like hair, and their bones and skin are black" -- not that anyone in these parts eats them.
"There's the Araucana, chickens from South America that lay tinted eggs -- blue, aqua, blue-green, even pinkish. The Easter-egg chickens," he said. "In America they started crossing them with American chickens, diluting the egg color. Those chickens are called Americanas."
"Frizzle chickens' feathers curl backwards, like they just had a permanent," he said. But the Sebright Bantams -- an English breed that comes in white or buff, their feathers edged in a metallic black-green -- are "spectacular."
Exotic chickens can be mail-ordered as newborns. But many new suburban poultry farmers wind up buying their chicks nearby, so Holmes spends a good deal of his time identifying breeds for exhibitors showing for the first time.
Holmes, who raises exotic breeds and works as a staff announcer for the Howard County cable TV station, said the judging is limited to 800 chickens. "But with the old-timers dying off and suburbia encroaching into farmland, I'll have a little over 300 this year."
Yet, he said, "I'm seeing more people who raised chickens as kids coming back into it. They say it's for their own kids, but I think they've still got the bug."
The downsizing of Howard's semi-rural lots calls for the downsizing of its livestock. Which is why Don Marston Jr., dairy goat superintendent, is thinking somebody might enter a Nigerian Dwarf goat this year. The West African breed stands just under two feet tall but produces three-quarters of a gallon of milk a day, compared with a gallon by a full-sized goat.
"This is the first season where this breed has been recognized" by the American Dairy Goat Association registry, said Marston, 38, of West Friendship, who has raised goats since 1983 and is partial to Toggenburgs, a Swiss variety that resemble deer. "It's created a lot of interest."
Across the state, hair and dairy goats, alpacas and llamas -- all easy to raise on an acre or two -- have surged in popularity. Goats are ideal suburban livestock, said Marston, who is also the president of the Maryland Dairy Goat Association. "When you raise them from a little baby, they're just like a cat or a dog. They don't really eat tin cans, that's a myth. But they like paper products," not to mention lawns and shrubs.
Marston also presides over the Pygmy goat show. "They're kind of cute," he said. "Roly-poly, the potbellied pig of goats."
But this is a dairy goat exhibit -- do they produce milk?
"They can," he said, "but not a whole lot."
On Saturday, Carolyn Kulp and Felicia arrived in Home Arts Building 3 to get ready for this year's exhibitors. Felicia's sketch won a blue ribbon in the manga category last year, but with high school taking so much of her time, she hasn't made a sketch for this year's fair. With a long family history in fair competition, she'll still find time for baking and other activities.
"My mom grew up in the fair," she said. "But I'd do this stuff anyway."