LAS DANZANAS Folklorico dancers in the 2022 Twilight Parade were a musical and colorful highlight. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

First let’s get the name right: It’s the Healdsburg Future Farmers Country Fair, taking place for its 74th year, once again at Rec Park on Piper and University. Though its first day was Wednesday of this week for families involved in Future Farmers and 4-H activities, for most locals and visitors alike the big weekend kicks off with the FFA Twilight Parade at 6pm on Thursday, May 25. 

It’s more than a mile-long caravan of floats, old cars and tractors, marching bands and dancing clowns; it’s the official signal that summer is about to begin in Healdsburg. 

The parade takes more than an hour to pass any given point, and it seems as if the entries keep appearing from around the corner, like a cluster of clowns exiting a too-small compact. That’s because the entries are stacked up in six staging areas along the residential streets southeast of the Plaza, feeding in sequence to the parade’s official starting point at Matheson and East.

At 6pm, the parade route starts near St. John’s Church on East and Matheson streets. Participating cars, trucks and trailers turn onto Center Street and past the Plaza—and throngs of cheering locals, who know a good time when it’s coming down the street—to Plaza Street at the library. 

The route then heads east to Fitch Street, turns right onto Fitch, then left onto Matheson, where the parade ends at University Street. 

Judging booths are set up downtown at Plaza and Center and toward the parade’s end on Matheson, so marching bands and dancers put their best feet forward at these locations. 

The theme of this year’s parade and fair is “Red, White, and Blue Animal Jamboree,” a colorful billing to live up to. Though the fair this year is dedicated to Dave Rafanelli and family, the parade itself is dedicated to Healdsburg Kiwanis, whose 100th anniversary is in 2023.

Expect lots of flags, not least because the parade is always held on the Thursday before the Memorial Day Weekend. The cross-town procession has been an annual tradition since 1950, when the town had a mere 3,300 residents, less than a third of its current population.

Future Farmers Country Fair

While some are calling it the 75th year of the fair, that is a bit premature. The first parade was most likely in 1950, a year after the FFA started an animal judging show, in 1949. That would make this year the 74th year of the fair and 2024 the 75th. 

The fair is free and open to all from Wednesday on, though for the first couple days it focuses on the students with animals in the various shows—a livestock show (swine, sheep and goats), a small animal (rabbit and covey) show, and a small animal (market and breeding poultry) show.

Thursday after the parade, the circus begins—literally, as the family-friendly Swan Circus sets up their little big tent on the Rec Park grounds, with juggling and non-animal tricks. There are also game booths and plenty of food vendors in the midway, though don’t expect cuisine on the level of last week’s more pricey experience in Healdsburg.

Expect instead corn dogs, sausages and hamburgers from Healdsburg Kiwanis; tri-tip, breakfast burritos, coffee and sweets from the Healdsburg High School Boosters; fudge and other goodies from Dry Creek Neighbors; ice cream from Warm Springs 4-H; and pony rides, basketball toss, bottle throws and more carnival games and snacks from a dozen participating community groups.

Included this year is a special Sonoma County Antique Equipment Society display of old-time equipment and engines, the type of equipment that was the mainstay of the agricultural industry 75 years ago. 

Animal judging continues all week until the prizes are announced on Saturday afternoon at the awards ceremony at 3pm, followed by the Livestock Auction at 4pm. The auction is the big event for the three-day fair, with over 140 large animals (exclusive of poultry and rabbits) sold to the highest bidder in the five-hour event.

During the auction, a drawing will be held for the winner of the Sir Rusty raffle, a substantial amount of donated beef from a local market.  

Last year, the auction, raffle and related fundraising produced a record $930,000. Sponsors hope this is the year the fundraising exceeds $1 million, to help support scholarships and agricultural education programs year-round. 

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