Advertisement
Share

HomeGrownFun opens to smaller, but enthusiastic crowd of fairgoers

Unicyclist Mark Wilder entertains fair goers by jumping rope on his unicycle at  HomeGrownFun
Unicyclist Mark Wilder entertains fair goers by jumping rope on his unicycle on the midway during opening day for HomeGrownFun, a scaled-down version of the San Diego County Fair which will take place June 11 through July 4 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
(Nancee E. Lewis/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Scaled-down version of the San Diego County Fair still a draw for the “regulars” who love the food, shopping and piglet races

In a normal year, as many as 1,000 people are usually lined up at the main gate for the opening morning of the San Diego County Fair. But this hasn’t been a normal year.

When the gates opened at 11 a.m. Friday, June 11, for the debut of HomeGrownFun — a sharply scaled-down version of the fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds — there were only a couple dozen people waiting to get in. Among them was Patti Hyss of Poway, who is always among the first to arrive each year. Hyss said she was very upset the fair was canceled last year because of the pandemic, so even though HomeGrownFun is much smaller than the usual event, she wouldn’t think of missing it.

“I love the fair so much. I’ve been coming for too many years to count,” Hyss said. “I always get a season pass so I can come back to enjoy all the people, the music, the food and the exhibits. Today I’m going to go see the flowers, eat some cinnamon rolls and have a Dole Whip.”

HomeGrownFun, which runs through July 4, is selling online tickets for up to 13,000 visitors a day, compared to the fair’s usual 60,000 or so daily visitors. There are no midway games or fun zone, no full-size garden show, no livestock or pet exhibitions, no grandstand concerts, no beer garden and no art, woodworking or collectibles shows.

But there are more than 280 vendors selling their wares in the exhibit halls, nearly 40 food booths, a carousel and Ferris wheel, pony rides, a model train and garden walk, a family-friendly “Agri-Land” exhibit with cow-milking demonstrations and child-size toy tractors, a variety of local entertainment and a closing-day fireworks show on July 4. Also, beginning June 16 — the day after the state officially reopens — 12 children’s rides will open in the Midway area.

Christina Negron, of Imperial Beach dives into an order of fried frog legs at HomeGrownFun
Christina Negron, of Imperial Beach, who hasn’t missed a fair in over 20 years, dives into an order of fried frog legs on opening day for HomeGrownFun, a scaled-down version of the San Diego County Fair which will take place June 11 through July 4 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
(Nancee E. Lewis/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Also at the front of the line Friday morning, June 11, were Olivia and Joseph Valencia of Lakeside, who’ve been coming to the fair’s opening day every year since 1999. Their checklist for the day included eating at their two favorite food booths, Australian Battered Potatoes and Golden West BBQ, and shopping for some new housewares in Bing Crosby Hall.

“We know it’s not the same as before, but we’re so excited to be here,” Olivia Valencia said.

At the fair’s two entry gates, workers made sure everyone entering had on a face covering. But inside the fairgrounds Friday, June 11, about 25 percent of fair visitors were either wearing their masks below their chins or not at all. A volunteer at a fair information booth said masks are indeed required on property for the length of the fair, but that guests will need to flag down security officers to make a complaint about unmasked individuals.

One of the first big attractions of the day Friday, June 11, was the Swifty Swine Racing Pigs, a crowd-pleasing show that always draws capacity crowds. The first race of the morning, featuring 5-week-old market piglets, was won by Britney Spare Rib, while the second race went to the fleet-footed pot-bellied pig Hamala Harris, who beat out Donald Trumproast for the victor’s prize: an Oreo cookie.

Matrix, an Australian Shepard mix, catches a flying disc in the Extreme Dogs show at HomeGrownFun.
Matrix, an Australian Shepard mix, catches a flying disc in the Extreme Dogs show on opening day of HomeGrownFun, a scaled-down version of the San Diego County Fair, which runs through July 4 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
(Nancee E. Lewis/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Swifty Swine owners Jack and Shannon Johnson of Van, Texas, have been touring the fair and festival circuit with their Swifty Swine piglets for 23 years. Their daughter, Hannah, helps run the races, cares for the piglets and sells $2 souvenirs like strap-on rubber pig noses. Hannah said her family usually spends nine months of each year on the road, so the pandemic was devastating for their family business and their morale.

“Last year was really hard,” she said. “I grew up in this business and I love doing it. It’s super fun. So being back out again feels good.”

Inside Bing Crosby Hall, a smaller-than-usual number of vendors were selling clip-on hair pieces, hot sauce, eyebrow services, toe rings, water purifiers, mattresses, kitchen knives, cowboy hats and wellness products. At the bustling Hardware Mercantile booth, the hottest-selling gadget was a $5.50 plastic funnel for emptying one inverted bottle of shampoo or chocolate sauce into another.

Mauricio Castro of TCM International in Los Angeles is running two side-by-side booths, selling the Spiralizer vegetable slicer and a line of fast-drying, odor-free kitchen sponges. Since 1996, Castro has been traveling to fairs, conventions and other events 12 months of the year. The San Diego County Fair is traditionally the first fair in the nation to open each year, so for Castro and many others in the hall, Friday was the first day back for many vendors since March 2020.

“We’re all a little nervous about the small size of this fair, but people are coming to me and saying that people are spending money,” Castro said. “Everyone is bored from being inside and they got their stimulus money and they’re ready to buy things again. The world is still upside down, but I think by this time next year everything will be back to normal.”

Owen Jana, 5, of Del Mar holds on tight to an oversized serving of curly fries on opening day for HomeGrownFun on Friday.
Owen Jana, 5, of Del Mar holds on tight to an oversized serving of curly fries on opening day for HomeGrownFun on Friday.
(Nancee E. Lewis/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

With fewer people to serve at midday Friday, June 11, virtually all of the food booths had short or no lines. One exception was Chicken Charlie’s, where an employee said the top-selling items during the opening hours were the Maui chicken in a pineapple bowl and the new ice cream nachos.

One of the booth’s first customers was Christina Negron of Imperial Beach, who came with her partner, Vanessa Farias, and her daughter, Elisa Hossfeld. Every year their first stop is Chicken Charlie’s where they try some new deep-fried food items. For Negron this year, it was fried frog legs. For Hossfeld it was batter-fried brownie bites topped with spicy buffalo sauce and ice cream.

“It’s pretty weird,” Hossfeld said of the sweet and spicy combo.

Three generations of the Welsh family of Valley Center arrived at 11 a.m. Friday for a day that they hoped would include visits to Tom Thumb Donuts, the pig races, the Extreme Dogs show and a few exhibits. Although the Welshes weren’t crazy with the face mask requirement, they were looking forward to exploring everything without the usual crowds.

“We’re just going to take our time and enjoy being out with everyone again,” Kathy Welsh said.

HomeGrownFun

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, through July 4
Where: Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
Tickets: $10; children 5 and under are free (tickets are sold for reserved times)
Parking: Prepaid parking is $12 at the Solana and Stable gates.
Phone: (858) 755-1161
Online ticket sales: sdfair.com

— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


Advertisement