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It’s opening day at the Erie County Fair, and organizers are celebrating 174 years of up-close animal encounters, agricultural exhibits and food frenzies.

Assistant Fair Manager Jessica Underberg talks with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer about major changes at the Hamburg Fairgrounds and new attractions. Here is a summary of some of the issues in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series.

Watch the full five-minute interview above.

Meyer: There are quite a few physical improvements to the actual infrastructure.

Underberg: We’ve been so busy all year long putting together the absolute best facility we can. We’ve laid about four acres of blacktop, we’ve widened the food court so in some cases it’s 80 feet wide. We’ve put a lot of power (lines) underground. We’ve put a new retaining wall in to prepare for some exciting future construction. The grounds look great.

Meyer: You have a couple of new features as well.

Underberg: We do. Every night at 10 o’clock we have Lasertainment, a great laser light show at the end of the night. It’s about a 20- to 30-minute show. We have free concerts. There’s so much going on.

Meyer: This is opening day. Let’s talk a little bit about how people can get in for free.

Underberg: If you bring in cans of food on opening day, you get in for free. And if you bring cans of food on the first Saturday, you get $5 off an unlimited ride wristband, which we’ve never done before ... And on Sunday, on top of that, if you bring in cans of food, you get $5 off admission. ... Our ultimate goal is to raise as many cans of food as we can for the Food Bank.

Meyer: Tell us a little bit about the heritage of this fair.

Underberg: It’s an Erie County Agricultural Society (event), so our mission statement and our roots are in agriculture. We still focus on that today. We have hundreds and hundreds of animal competitions and 4H and FFA livestock exhibitors. That’s really where our heart is.

Meyer: Is there any kind of documentation that would tell you what the most popular exhibits are?

Underberg: We’ve done exit surveys in the past. The number one reason people come to the Erie County Fair is – surprise – food. And No. 2 is animals.

Meyer: Are there any new food items that you’ve heard of this year?

Underberg: There’s a bacon bomb, which is a peanut butter ball with bacon bits and deep-fried. All kinds of crazy things. There’s a 7-inch deep-fried gummy bear. There’s catfish on a stick, pork butt on a stick. There’s always something new.

Meyer: I’m wondering if the folks who are looking at healthy eating options are frowning right now.

Underberg: You know what? I’m one of those folks. So, there are salads, there are gyros, there are healthy options.

Meyer: Let’s talk about the competition. ... Fifty, 60, 70 years ago, there weren’t as many festivals...Does that take a bite out of your business?

Underberg: I don’t think so. Our attendance is growing. I think Western New York is a festival community. We like to get out and do things outdoors, especially when it’s nice. We’ve been 174 years, and we’re growing strong.

Meyer: In terms of affordability: if you have two or three kids and you come here, it’s an expensive day.

Underberg: It can be. But if you plan your day, it won’t be. For instance, kids 12 and under are free – every day.

Bring the cans of food. Buy a presale admission.

Just plan your day and it will work out.