SAN JOSE -- This year's Santa Clara County Fair has added a new kind of "animal" -- robots.

The fair's director of marketing, Steve Stagnaro, tries to add a new attraction to the fair each year. Last year it was amateur wine tasting.

"A fair should be a place where people can go, 'Ooh! That looks interesting,' " Stagnaro said Thursday as the fair opened its four-day run.

So amid the usual events with young people showing off chickens, horses, cows and goats, this year there are high school students showing off robots. The robotics club at his kids' high school, Valley Christian High in San Jose, recently won a competition for their basketball-playing robots, so he invited the club to the fair for a demonstration.

Stagnaro hopes the demonstration is a fun way to inspire students to go into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

"I think it's something that's approachable and friendly and that people can really grasp, and it's cool," said the fair manager, Sarah Pence. "Like, 'They have a basketball-shooting robot, that's cool!' "

There are also the old fair staples: carnival rides, food, and entertainment.

As the fair celebrates its 70th anniversary, this addition illustrates the changes county fairs have made in the past few decades to adapt to a less agriculturally centered society. In 2008, the Santa Clara County lost county funding and neared extinction.


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Since then, admissions have risen steadily, providing about half of the revenue for operating costs. Renting the buildings out during the year provides the rest, and fair managers this year are also starting a sponsorship campaign, according to officials.

In addition to the robots, technology seems to have influenced even the more traditional, agricultural side of the fair.

Terry Reeder, who judges the poultry division of the 4-H and National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America) clubs, said blogs have influenced the popularity of new chicken breeds, making his job of judging "best of breed" more complicated.

Regardless of the quality of the chicken, people are branding and popularizing new breeds based on the looks of a chicken or even of its eggs.

"For instance, if you hatch a chicken out of your normal-looking chicken and it's a little bit different, and so you, as a person say, 'Wow, I want that to be a new breed,' " he said. "So you tell a bunch of friends about it on the Internet, take some pictures, everybody wants your new breed."

But the judging of showmanship went on as it always has. At the end of a line of small, middle-school age children holding chickens, two high-school age girls straddled full-grown turkeys between their legs, and kept smiling at the judge as the birds squawked and tried to wriggle out.

4-H students at the fair, which opened to the public Thursday afternoon, have been showing their animals for the past week. On Sunday, they'll auction the animals off -- then take them to the butcher.

Lynne Howard, whose grandson competed in several small animals divisions, hopes to buy two chickens, two turkeys and her grandson's goat.

The goat originally cost $600, and she expects to pay about $15 for each of the animal's 88 pounds.

"I'm grandma," she said. "He's got to make a profit."

Santa Clara County Fair
The Santa Clara County Fair runs through Sunday, from noon-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday.
Location: 344 Tully Road, San Jose.
General admission: $8.00, $5.00 for youth (5-11) and seniors (65+). Children under 5 are free.
Parking: $5 a car
* Discounted admission tickets are available at www.thefair.org