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Florida State Fair: More Than Ferris Wheels And Funnel Cakes

The 112th Florida State Fair with its corn dogs, midway rides and life-stock shows opened Thursday on grounds just east of Tampa.

Flanked by law enforcement officers and in front of several TV news cameras, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi flipped a ceremonial  lever as a profusion of multi-colored hues lit up the midway.

But the state fair is more than Ferris wheels and funnel cakes.

Just a few buildings down from the midway, inside the cattle barn cattle were being groomed for show. That’s where Albert Austrino and his son were watering one of their Angus cows. Owen is competing as is his older sister.

“We go to all the fairs,” Austrino said. “But my daughter, she’s 22 now, she’s goes to college. I have a 7 year old son. They show the animals and they love it.

That was echoed by his son, Owen who likes working cattle.

“I want to be a rancher for getting more money, more cattle and getting belt buckles. I love belt buckles,” Owen Austrino said.

The Florida State Fair originated as a way to buy and sell cattle back in 1904.

Now, it’s known for more than live-stock shows and amusement rides. Food has become center stage and the more fried the better like Cajun fried pickle spears or funnel cake pizzas which can be found on the midway.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Angus cattle being groomed before showing at the Florida State Fair.

Inside the Agriculture Hall of Fame building was the “Fresh From Florida” breakfast with products like a Florida Cracker Belgian White Ale jam made with Plant City strawberries and jalapenos and a Farmhouse Ale orange marmalade with cinnamon and vanilla.

“We had to get creative and figure out a way to bring food to a breakfast because we didn’t want to bring beer here,” said Chris Lovett from Cigar City Brewing.

He was dishing out three specialty jams made from his beer by The Urban Canning Company of St. Petersburg onto bread crafted out of the spent grain from his brewery by Jamison B. Breadhouse Bakes of Ybor City.

This was his first time presenting at the state fair.

“We want to show that the beer industry in Florida is just as much of a handmade ‘Fresh From Florida” product as the honey as the strawberries as everything else,” Lovett said.

And despite the flashing lights of the rides and the aroma of fried foods on the midway, fair officials claim that “agriculture remains the heart of the Florida State Fair.”

The fair is open through Feb. 15 on the state fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301, Tampa, FL.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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