A sneak peak at a couple of Solano County Fair entries...think insects!
The COVID-19 pandemic derailed fairs and festivals, but now they're back on track.
Take the 73rd annual Solano County Fair, themed "Bales of Fun." Located at 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo, it opens June Thursday through Sunday, June 16-19, and gate admission is free. Headed by president Lee Williams of Rio Vista, the board of directors includes Valerie Williams of Vacaville, better known as "Mrs. Solano County 4-H." In fact, Valerie has served tirelessly for some 25 years as the Solano County 4-H program representative. The 4-H program is part of the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources or UC ANR.
Our favorite part of the fair? The exhibits at McCormack Hall, particularly those that are insect-themed.
One entry, by talented photographer Matthew Agbayani, 17, of the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, shows a syrphid fly and a honey bee sharing a sunflower. It takes a special kind of patience to be able to capture two species on the same flower.
Many folks mistake syrphid flies, aka hover flies or hover flies, for honey bees. They're both pollinators.
Three of the easiest ways to differentiate a fly from a bee:
- A fly has one set of wings. A bee has two sets.
- A fly has short, stubby antennae. A honey bee doesn't.
- A fly has no corbicula or pollen basket. A honey bee (worker bee) does.
Among the other insect-themed displays: Rio Vista resident Richard Laswell's exquisite watercolor depicting three dragonflies that he entered in the amateur art division; and Vallejo resident Ashley Workman's colorful blue butterfly (oils and acrylics) that she entered in open art division.
Art by Iris Mayhew of American Canyon also caught our eye. She drew inspiration from a safari in Kenya. "I love animals," she said. That includes monarchs and Gulf Fritillaries. She'll be depicting them next.
When you first meet Brandon DeGroot, 6, of Vallejo, he'll tell you "I love spiders and snakes" and he'll flash a big smile.
He's the kind of youngster that arachnologists, including Professor Eileen Hebets of the University of Nebraska and Professor Jason Bond, of the University of California, Davis, welcome to their fold.
Bond, associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is chairing the American Arachnological Society's meeting June 26-30 at UC Davis with Lisa Chamberland, postdoctoral research associate, Department of Entomology and Nematology, and Joel Ledford, assistant professor of teaching, Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences.
An open house, "Eight-Legged Encounters," set from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 25 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, will kick off the conference. Hebets is co-hosting it as part of a U.S. National Science Foundation grant, “Eight-Legged Encounters,” that she developed as an outreach project to connect arachnologists with communities, especially youth. It's free, open to the public, and family friendly.
The open house promises to be one of the biggest events--if not the leggiest!--of the year on the UC Davis campus and beyond. A powerhouse of arachnologists, Bond said, will be at the open house. “There will be everything--spider specimens, live arachnids, activities, artwork, etc."
Some 20 exhibits and activities will be set up in the hallway of the Academic Surge Building, said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. A popular activity at the Bohart is its live petting zoo, comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches or "hissers," stick insects and tarantulas. Youths, especially, delight in holding the hissers and stick insects.
But back to Brandon.
"Brandon has always loved spiders, insects and snakes, starting when he was a toddler looking for bugs in our yard," said his mother, Heather DeGroot. "Brandon was always in the dirt, and my other son, Mason, now 8, was always in the grass." Last Tuesday, June 7, while Heather kept busy coordinating the Solano County Fair exhibits at McCormack Hall, in preparation for the June 16-19 fair, Brandon kept busy looking for critters outside. When he'd find one, he'd excitedly announce his treasure, and even more excitedly, show it to all.
So, in between his bug hunts, we thought we'd interview Brandon.
Bug Squad: "How old are you?
Brandon: "I'm six and I go to kindergarten at Vallejo Charter School. I'm almost in the first grade." (He graduated from kindergarten June 9.)
Bug Squad: "Brandon, how long have you loved spiders and snakes?"
Brandon: "A long time."
Bug Squad: "Cool! Why do you love spiders?"
Brandon: "I like the poison and how they eat."
Bug Squad: "What do you want to be when you grow up, Brandon?"
Brandon: "I want to be a scientist about animals. See my snake tattoo on my arm?" (He displayed the washable tattoo that tattoo artist Jason Meyers of Concord created just for him.)
Bug Squad: "Fantastic! What makes you happy?"
Bug Squad: "Does your brother Mason like snakes and spiders?"
Brandon: "No, he only likes BMX." (Mason will be competing as part of Team USA at a BMX competition in Nance, France in July. The entire family will be there to support him.)
Bug Squad: "Why doesn't Mason like spiders and snakes?"
Brandon: "He doesn't want to get hurt by them."
Bug Squad: "Do you like bees?"
Brandon: "I like bees. They pollinate the flowers and make them change colors. I like ladybugs and I like letting them crawl on me. I like walking sticks. I saw them on YouTube and they look just like sticks."
Bug Squad: "Do you like ants?"
Brandon: "I like ants but I don't like fire ants." (He sees fire ants on family trips to Houston, Texas.)
Bug Squad: "Do you like butterflies?"
Brandon: "I like them because of their colors."
Bug Squad: "Do you like dragonflies?"
Brandon: "I like how fast they fly and they nibbled on my family at the Yuba River but they didn't nibble on me."
Bug Squad: "Brandon, do you like sports or play sports?"
Brandon: "I played basketball and I'm going to learn to play tennis."
Bug Squad: "Do you like girls?"
Brandon (raising his eyebrows): "No, I like dogs."
Bug Squad: "Do you have a dog?"
Bug Squad: What's your favorite food?"
Brandon: "Strawberries and chocolate."
And with that, he opened his lunch box, picked out a strawberry, and shared it with a bug that he had just collected in the McCormack Hall gardens.
"Here you go," Brandon told the bug, later identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, as an aphid. "I'm feeding you so you won't get hungry."
Honey bees own the flower beds at the Solano County Fair, 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo.
But bees and other insects claim the exhibit halls, as well. They're depicted on everything from quilts and photos to graphic arts displayed in McCormack Hall.
Indeed, pollinators are an integral part of the exhibits at the 70th annual Solano County Fair, which opens Thursday, June 27 and continues through Sunday, June 30. The annual family-based fair aims to inform, educate and entertain.
Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of McCormack Hall, and a community leader with the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, called attention to the colorful bees framing a 9-patch maple leaf quilt showcased in the adult division. It is the work of Tina Frothy of Vallejo.
And some of the youth entries?
- Jessie Means of the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, entered a close-up photo of a honey bee.
- Maya Prunty of the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club submitted a photo of a caterpillar.
- Alana Boman of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club sketched a moth.
- Madeline Giron of Benicia drew a bee.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, identified it as Parthenos sylvia ssp. lilacinus from Southeast Asia. "Its English name," he said, "is the Blue Clipper."
Locally, you can see Blue Clipper specimens in the Bohart Museum of Entomology in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis. "We have 11 specimens of this subspecies and specimens of 4 other subspecies of Parthenos sylvia, as well as specimens of two other species in the genus," said entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of Lepidoptera at the Bohart. He describes the butterfly as "beautiful with a strong wingbeat." Smith remembers collecting one in Thailand when he was serving with the U.S. Air Force.
Gonzalez said some of the items entered in the fair are tagged for the silent auction; the highest bidder takes the entry home.
Admission to the Solano County Fair is free all four days. Parking is free the first day only. Gates are from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, and from noon to 8 p.m., Friday through Sunday. See more information on the website.
Cheers to 70 years! And cheers to the exhibitors who picked pollinators!
The two-day fair, downsized from years past, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1. Admission is free; parking is $5 per vehicle. (See schedule.)
At McCormack Hall, youth and adult exhibitors are displaying such projects as an insect-themed afghan, photographs of insects; a photograph of a "spider girl"; and a wall hanging of a dragonfly crafted from fan blades and furniture legs.
McCormack Hall superintendent Gloria Gonzalez, a community leader of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, marveled at a bumble bee and other patterns on a Minnesota sampler crocheted afghan, the work of Debra Holter of San Pablo.
The wall hanging of the dragonfly, the work of Tina Saravia of Suisun City, is also drawing interest. Using her imagination and recyclables, Saravia crafted it primarily with fan blades and furniture legs. It's entered in the adult recycling class,
Gary Cullen of Vallejo entered a photo that he titled "Spider Girl," of a smiling girl with a spiderish facial costume.
Ryan Anenson of the Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon, who is enrolled in a beekeeping project, submitted a close-up image of a honey bee. Maya Prunty of Sacramento 4-H submitted an image of a moth.
Those are just a few of the arthropod-related exhibits at the fair. Some of the items are available for purchase in the fair's Competitive Exhibits Program. The highest bidder in the silent auction takes home the exhibit.
That will include the honey bee image by teenage beekeeper Ryan Anenson.
We recently watched McCormack Hall superintendent Gloria Gonzalez of Vallejo, and her crew set up the exhibits in preparation for the crowds that will flow through the building next week.
Butterflies appear in many of the entries, including quilts, vests, needlework, paintings, photographs, and arts and crafts. As the crew worked, a butterfly fluttered through the open door, hovered over a display table, and then fluttered out. An omen?
One of the eye-opening, jaw-dropping displays is a butterfly-themed quilt made by LaQuita Tummings of Rodeo. Judges wrote, in part: "Wow, incredible design!" Indeed it is!
The adult division exhibits include a colorful vest of brilliant blossoms and majestic butterflies, sewn by Linda Douthit of Fairfield, a veteran seamstress, 4-H leader and longtime exhibitor. Laura Ryan of Vallejo entered her intricate needlework showcasing bees and blossoms; you can almost hear the bees buzz. Tina Waycie, Vallejo, is showing her quilling (paper arts); the attention to detail is amazing. In adult collections, Joanne Dalton of Vallejo, entered her case of 93 thimbles, and yes, a butterfly motif adorns one of them.
Theme of this year's Solano County Fair, established in 1949, is "This Fair's for Ewe." The grounds are located at 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo. Directors of the Solano County Fair Association, appointed by the Solano County Board of Supervisors, aim for a "positive experience for the public" through "educational, cultural, artistic, commercial and recreational programs."
The fair is open from from 3 to 11 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, and from noon to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. The schedule and ticket prices are listed on the fair website, but note the three free admission days:
- Seniors' Day: Free admission all day on Wednesday, Aug. 2 or seniors 60 and better
- Kids' Day: Free admission all day on Thursday, Aug. 3 for kids ages 12 and under
- Military and First Responders Appreciation Day: Free admission all day on Friday, Aug. 4 for military, law enforcement, firefighters and their dependents
When you go, be sure to look for the monarchs in McCormack Hall. If you're lucky, a butterfly--maybe a monarch, Gulf Fritillary or Western tiger swallowtail--will flutter into the building.
Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. --Nathaniel Hawthorne