SILVANA — For 70 years, fair season in Snohomish County has kicked off in Silvana.
It’s a small community that has stayed true to its roots of farming and 4H. On a sun-bathed, freshly mowed field behind Viking Hall, the annual Silvana Fair on Saturday reflected the place it comes from.
There were no carnival rides whirring in noisy circles or hawkers waving toward game booths and giant stuffed animals. The focus was on rows of caged rabbits and chickens under shaded canopies, and children and teens in white outfits leading cows around a ring while a judge looked on. A crowd gathered at noon for the greased pole contest, cheering as children tried to scramble up the slick surface.
The Silvana Fair started in 1947 as a learning fair, and that mission has continued, though the event has grown.
Kids in 4H and Future Farmers of America, or FFA, can practice showing animals, art or other exhibits. They gather feedback from the judges before continuing to larger fairs in Stanwood, Mount Vernon, Monroe and Puyallup.
Elsie Pryor, 87, lives two miles from the fairgrounds, and seven miles from where she grew up in Arlington. She’s been helping at the fair since 1961. She and her husband were 4H leaders. Her husband, Jack Pryor, has a plaque in the Memorial Garden at the fairgrounds. Their two daughters, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren all have participated in the fair.
“For me, the best part is just seeing the kids progress,” Pryor said. “They come back and say, ‘Oh, Elsie, you’re still here.’ Yes, I am.”
Every June, she starts wearing her Silvana Fair T-shirt from the previous year’s fair. She puts it on whenever she goes shopping in Stanwood, a reminder for folks that fair season is around the corner. After Silvana comes the Stanwood-Camano Fair, scheduled for this weekend. The Skagit County Fair is Aug. 9 to 12 in Mount Vernon, the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe starts Aug. 24, and the Washington State Fair in Puyallup runs most of September.
The Silvana Fair is paid for through donations raised at an auction in March.
For fair families, namely those in 4H and FFA, this is the busiest time of year. And for many of those families, fair fever spans generations.
Christina Reese, 67, moved to Silvana about 45 years ago from Boise, Idaho. She started with Silvana Lads and Lassies 4H when they had no one to run the booth one year. She became a 4H leader, and her four children started showing at the fair. Reese’s daughter Tina Seek also became a leader, and her daughter — Reese’s granddaughter — grew up in 4H.
“Hopefully my great-granddaughter will be doing something before long,” Reese said.
The fair looks different than it did decades ago. There once were two tents pitched outside and indoor exhibits inside the old schoolhouse, and later in a nearby church. Kids walked their heifers down the hill from surrounding farms the morning of the fair, and animals were judged that afternoon.
Now, the fair needs two days of animal registration and a full day of judging. On Saturday, tents filled much of the field behind Viking Hall, and the interior of the hall was hung with quilts, artwork and ribbons, and lined with tables of produce and crafts.
“When I was a little kid, like 3 years old, I was here showing cows,” Seek said, noting that she went on to show other animals, too. “That’s what you do when you live around here. You grow up doing this, and then you come back to the fair and judge.”
It’s important to Reese that the Silvana Fair, and 4H, always be a place where families work together. It teaches young people confidence and responsibility, she said.
Though much has changed since 1947, and the fair now draws hundreds of guests rather than a couple of dozen locals, it’s never stopped being a place to learn and to spend time as a family.
“It’s still the same fair,” Pryor said.
“To us, it’s the most important fair,” she said.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.