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Exhibits Offer Fair-Goers Education in County Crops : Farmers are showing off everything from staples such as lemons and broccoli to exotic produce. There are also plenty of recipes.


Currently on exhibit at the Ventura County Fair is an assemblage of fresh, locally grown produce that is providing fair-goers the chance at a mini-tour of the county's agricultural scene and a close-up look at a vast array of produce grown here.

About a dozen local growers and packers--large and small--have erected ornately constructed displays of their seasonal wares, which shoppers can buy at area markets.

The produce gamut runs from the county's largest cash crop--citrus--to staples such as lettuce and broccoli. And there are exotic specialty crops. All of which will be on exhibit through Sunday.

The annual gathering of members of the county's agriculture family is meant to provide the public with a general education about the local industry, said Ventura County Fair Agricultural Supt. Susan Kleine.

"We want to share with and teach the public about agriculture because this is such an important part of Ventura County," she said.

Here's a peek inside the spacious, 24,000-square-foot Agricultural Building and some of what's going on inside:

* Visitors will first encounter brightly hued stacks of lemons and oranges set amid antique farming implements, which the Limoneira company is displaying to celebrate its 100 years of farming in Ventura County.

An abbreviated history of the company that forged the county's citrus industry is available here for the reading.

Limoneira's display includes a restored oil wagon, which was used to haul fuel to the frost-protecting smudge pots set among the trees, and a water wagon, which was dragged through the orchards before less arduous irrigation systems were in place.

Oil paintings that hang from the ceiling--including scenes of Yosemite Valley's Bridalveil Falls, and a red-cheeked Santa Claus with a gift sack draped over his shoulder--are examples of the artwork Limoneira used for its citrus crate labels.

* At the California Avocado Commission's display, visitors are given an education in the assorted commercial varieties of this large-pitted, creamy fruit.

There are consumer tips galore. A detailed picture display explains when an avocado is ripe for the slicing by detailing the color and firmness changes the fruit undergoes during the ripening process. Recipes and other literature are handed out free by the folderful. Also on hand are a couple of small Hass avocado trees--the predominant variety grown in Ventura County--with fruit dangling from the branches.

* Underwood Ranches is showing off many of the specialty and baby vegetables available at its roadside stand in Somis.

Playing off of this year's fair theme, "Makin' Magic," a large-scale magician's black top hat is overturned and heaped with radicchio, Tai eggplant, beefsteak tomatoes, squash, peppers and much more. The display also includes some of Underwood Ranches' prepackaged products available at some supermarkets, like its bi-colored corn and baby carrots, plus samples of gift baskets sold at the stand.

* Mushrooms are a crop you will never see on a Sunday drive through Ventura County's bucolic countryside. And so Mushrooms Etc. of Camarillo decided to bring its mild-flavored fungus out of its dark, damp growing sheds and to the fair.

Along with free samples and literature outlining the mushroom-farming process, visitors can gaze upon a rectangular wooden frame brimming with composted horse manure and laden with a whitish, bubbly covering of multi-sized mushrooms.

* More taste testing can be had at the Fresh Prep Inc. display, where the Ventura-based prepackaged vegetable specialist has been handing out small garden salads. Fresh Prep's packaged celery sticks, carrot slices, radishes, cauliflower pieces and other produce offerings are carried by many local grocery stores.

Other growers in attendance include Boskovich Farms, San Miguel Produce, Oxnard Vegetable Exchange and Rio Farms--all are exhibiting seasonal produce, including a colorful array of peppers, onions, scallions, baby bok choy and tomatillos.

Knoshers take note--in the Agriculture Building, there will be a couple of events corresponding with exhibits: "Cattlemen's Day," 4 p.m. Friday, presented by the Ventura County Cattlemen's Assn., includes beef chili samplings; Mission Produce of Oxnard hosts "Avocado Day" at noon Saturday and will prepare fresh guacamole served with chips.


The Agriculture Building is open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; the fairgrounds are at 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura.

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