Goat mountain isn’t going anywhere. Neither are the racing pigs, the crash-tastic demolition derbies, corn dogs, tractor pulls and nightly live music. But if you’re interested in conversing with folks around the world without leaving home — or maybe you want to enjoy the fair with autistic family members who might find the scene a little overwhelming — this year’s State Fair of Virginia offers a few new experiences. The fair returns Friday, Sept. 27, through Sunday, Oct. 6, at The Meadow Event Park in Doswell, and in its continued efforts to reach as many people as possible, it will open its first-ever sensory room inside one corner of the Farm Bureau Center for children and adults alike. There, families will find comfortable places to sit, noise-reducing items, such as headphones and ear plugs; hands-on sensory activities that allow individuals to explore items through touch; and anxiety-reducing objects, such as fidget spinners, dance ribbon wands, liquid motion bubblers and more. Stacy Davis, event planning manager and operations assistant for The Meadow Event Park and group sales/volunteer program coordinator for the State Fair of Virginia, said the idea sprung from a discussion among other fair managers about having a special place for people who have a hard time processing the highly stimulating environment. Davis, who has a relative with autism and volunteers with Special Olympics events, said she sees first-hand how it affects families. While a trip to the state fair is a tradition for lots of families, “unfortunately many folks are unable to truly capture or enjoy the full fair experience due to uncontrollable limitations or sudden overwhelming anxieties,” Davis said by email. Those limitations mean that families either will not venture out, or they’ll come only for short visits or during the least-visited days and times of the 10-day event. “That is not what I feel the State Fair of Virginia represents — we should strive to provide a fun and memorable family-friendly experience for all fairgoers, including those who may require additional accommodations,” Davis said, adding that she’s working on a social story that’ll include how to plan for a trip to the fair and what to expect once there. Social stories are used by people with autism, parents and professionals as learning tools. Davis said she hopes to keep the sensory room as a permanent part of future fairs, and even expand it if they find it’s popular with patrons. ***

Its roots may be agriculture, but technology is right at home at the State Fair of Virginia. The fair will host the Richmond Portal, the audiovisual interactive experience found within a shipping container that allows users to converse with people in any of the other 40 portals located around the world. The portal was first introduced in Richmond earlier this year, and was most recently at Maymont. At 8-by-20 feet, the interior is covered by carpet, except for one wall, which features a floor-to-ceiling bidirectional video screen that allows users to converse with another person, almost as if they’re standing in front of each other. Users connect with people in Nigeria, Mexico City, Afghanistan, Honduras, Rwanda and more, depending on which portals are operating around the world. The Richmond Portal is part of the Portal Project

that started in New York in 2014 as Shared Studios. The company connected a gallery to people in Iran through a shared video feed. The portal will be open select times each day of the fair, and schedules are based on when other portals are active. “We hope by having this unique experience at the fair we can expose our guests to different places and people,” said M.L. Stuart Sanders, the fair’s assistant director of educational programs and competitions manager. She said she’s experienced the portal and connected with people in Mexico City. “It was a really neat experience and reinforced that, regardless of your location,” she said, “we all share many similarities.” ***

Curious about this year’s new gastronomy selections? For starters, your childhood grilled cheese sandwich just got a grown-up makeover thanks to Chesapeake Bay crab dip, tomatoes and bacon, while Firecracker Corn on the Cob is roasted kernels smothered in Monterey Jack cheese and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. But new this year, for those looking to taste the best of Virginia’s diverse agricultural and farming industries, the fair has partnered with Publix Apron’s Cooking School to offer a four-course “Celebrate Virginia” demonstration dinner on Oct. 4 at the mansion at The Meadow Event Park. Leading the night is

chef Willie Hernandez, Publix resident chef. Tickets are $60 per person and include fair admission. The menu runs the gamut:

grilled provolone and chorizo with fried green tomatoes and roasted jalapeño aioli; red and green lettuces with roasted butternut squash, candied pecans and bacon apple cider vinaigrette; grilled beef kafta and Mediterranean potato gratin; and wine-poached honey apple crisp with soft-serve vanilla. The meal will be served with Virginia wines. Sources include Mechanicsville’s Rosa’s Garden, Stevensburg’s Fresh2o Growers and the Appalachian Sustainable Development, Seven Hills Food Co. from Lynchburg, plus Homestead Creamery and Saunders Brothers orchard and farm, from Franklin and Nelson counties, respectively. “Everything is from a local farm, including the beef,” Hernandez said, adding that he chose a menu based on local produce available in October all around Virginia. The cooking demonstration will allow patrons to see — from start to finish — how to prepare healthy, tasty meals, and then pair them with local wine and beer. Hernandez added: “It’s like a live TV show when you come to eat.”

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