CONCORD - County fairs are synonymous with rides, games, overstuffed plush toys and deep-fried everything.
But the real core of a classic county fair is farm life.
In its 60th anniversary year, the Cabarrus County Fair isn't "going back to its roots," because it really never left.
Agriculture, from farm animals to homemade foods, is a staple of the fair, which opened Friday.
Kate Parker, fair manager and events director, said this year's fair is especially focused on the traditions that country fairs were created to celebrate.
"Hopefully it builds some awareness of what we have to offer in the community, and what the fair has to offer outside of the midway," Parker said.
In the livestock hall, visitors can gaze on longhorn cattle, a mammoth donkey (native of France) and baby ducks, who slide down a water slide and then swim and waddle back to the top for a treat.
"It's for the fun of it," said Nathan Brown, with Mount Pleasant FFA, one of the high school volunteers helping with the duck display.
Elsewhere, young calves were nestled together in one pen while a donkey colt nursed in another.
Parker said this year's fair encourages visitors not just to look at the animals, but to learn about them.
Signs throughout the fairgrounds encourage guests to "Ask Me About Agriculture" - and exhibitors will answer.
At the Cabarrus Beekeepers booth, 8-year-old Jaylen Dickerson, of Concord, forgot all about rides and sweets while a volunteer showed him a hive full of living, buzzing bees.
And Terrance Dickerson said that, for him, watching Jaylen as he asked questions was his favorite part of the fair.
"It just goes to tell you, you don't always have to go to Disney World," Dickerson said.
Parker said this year's fair is as safe as always, thanks to inspections by the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture and their own precautions.
Earlier this year, organizers of the N.C. State Fair said they would limit patrons' access to animals after a 2011 E. coli outbreak made about 30 barn visitors sick.
Parker said no additional precautions were needed, because fairgoers are already kept out of petting distance of many animals.
And hand-washing stations and sanitizer are placed throughout the exhibit hall, as well as reminders about safe behavior.
"We go above and beyond what (Department of Agriculture) requirements are, to make sure we're on the safe side," Parker said.
There's plenty of other entertainment to go around, with local artists on stage every night of the fair to keep the crowd singing and dancing, Parker said.
Powers Great American Midways returned with 40 rides and 35 different games.
And, of course, there's food.
Sarah LeStrange, of Charlotte, said the highlight of the night for her was fried Oreos.
"A little bit of heaven in your mouth," she said.
Her friends Jeff and Kerry Stack came back to the fair to relive a memory.
Last year, Kerry said, her then-boyfriend proposed to her on the Ferris wheel.
"We love fairs, and it was something unique," she said.
The Cabarrus County Fair runs through Sept. 15. The midway is open from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays, Sunday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. and weekdays from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Adult admission is $7, with kids 6 to 11 admitted for $3. Children under 5 are admitted free.
Seniors 65 and older and military servicemembers with ID get in for $5.
For more information, visit cabarruscountyfair.com.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor's desk at 704-797-4244.