More than 22,000 fair-goers attended the recent 2016 Sparkleberry Fair, and some even received a hug or two.

More than 22,000 fair-goers attended the recent 2016 Sparkleberry Fair, and some even received a hug or two.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

COLUMBIA – Unlike last year’s rain-drenched event, the 21st annual Sparkleberry Country Fair took place beneath clear blue skies, attracting more than 22,000 adults and children who were bathed in sunscreen rather than raindrops.

The 2016 fair was held April 30 on the expansive grounds of Clemson University’s Sandhill Research and Education Center. The festive extravaganza featured about two dozen educational exhibits hosted by Clemson Cooperative Extension, including 4-H, hands-on science, livestock and poultry, gardening, animal science, aquaponics, shooting sports, healthy lifestyles, backyard pollinators and Youth Learning Institute summer camps.

“Clemson University is proud of its longstanding commitment to the Sparkleberry Country Fair,” Extension Director Thomas Dobbins said. “Our focus is on education, but our goal is to make agriculture fascinating and fun. We hope that everyone who came out had a great time but also gained a new appreciation of the scope of Extension’s reach here in Columbia and across the state.”

Sandhill REC has conducted agricultural research and demonstration programs since the mid-1920s, and it began hosting the Sparkleberry Country Fair more than 20 years ago. Since its inception, the fair has been the perfect venue for local farmers to show off their animals and wares.

“I look at the fair as a confluence of farm to city, old and new, urban and rural, fun and education,” Sandhill REC Director Kathy Coleman said. “It’s a great way to educate people – especially our urban community – about agriculture but also to demonstrate that we conduct agricultural research and Extension education programs right here in Columbia, South Carolina.”

Each fair, which is family-friendly and alcohol-free, takes more than 11 months to organize and offers a variety of entertainment with an agricultural theme.

This year’s attractions included:

  • Sheep shearing and herding
  • An always-popular cow-milking contest
  • Wood-turning with lathes
  • Petting zoos and camel and pony rides
  • A large display of model railroads and trains
  • An antique tractor and engine show
  • Native American display
  • Blacksmithing demonstrations
  • Arts and crafts
  • A Master Gardener plant sale and lectures
  • Future Farmers of America plant sale
  • Two stages showcasing local talent
  • Aviation displays, simulators, rocket launches and model airplanes
  • An antique/classic car show
  • South Carolina Farm Bureau “Ag in the Classroom” simulator
  • Richland County Soil and Water Conservation District
  • 4-H hay rides, horse demonstrations, shooting trailer and barbeque cook-off
  • A separate carnival with more than a dozen rides for kids of all ages

A variety of Extension agents and specialists appeared at the fair.

Amber Starnes, area livestock and forages agent who is based in Chesterfield County, described how to identify animals with ear tags. “We help kids make an ear-tag keychain to take with them. And we are also doing a study where we talk about how farms use branding to identify their animals.”

Lance Beecher, aquaculture and fishery specialist, hosted an aquaponics display. “An aquaponics system feeds the fish, which in turn produce the nutrients needed for the plants to grow. So we get two products out of one system.”

Linda Green, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program assistant, shared healthy lifestyle tips. “We provide examples of nutritious salads that contain only 300 calories, and we help participants build their own scrumptious versions.”

Patty Scharko, Livestock-Poultry Health veterinarian, oversaw an exhibit of sheep and goats. “We show the difference between wool sheep and hair sheep. And we’re doing shearing demonstrations on the wool sheep. It’s springtime and time to shear.”

Karen Jackson, Richland County water resources agent, along with Jackie Jordan, a Richland Extension agent who is an expert in commercial horticulture, informed people about the importance of pollinators. “We have painted lady butterflies on display here that are feeding on lantana. And we’ve also got some milkweed seed packets for people to take home. We’re trying to encourage people to create habitat in their backyard for pollinators,” Jackson said.

Deon Legette, regional lead agent for the Midlands, coordinated a variety of events. “I have been an agent here for a number of years, and the Sparkleberry Country Fair is one of the most popular events in the county.”

Weatherly Thomas, Richland County agent for 4-H, oversaw the recruitment of potential new members. “We’re here today to welcome all the children and to try to get them interested in 4-H.”

Jeff Fellers, who operated the Union County 4-H shooting trailer, showed participants how to shoot paper targets, silhouettes and moving targets. “The Union County 4-H Shooting Sports Trailer is designed to provide a fun shooting experience for adults and youth. New shooters or experienced shooters have several different target options to challenge their skills. New shooters learn gun safety. Our goal is to help them succeed.”

Jacob “Jake” McClure, Clemson Youth Learning Institute and director of the Camp Bob Cooper facility, promoted summer camp activities. “Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute has been involved in camping since our inception. Events like the Sparkleberry Fair give us the opportunity to talk to parents about our camps. Whether it is marine science, engineering, white water rafting, shooting sports, or 4-H that interests a child, there is a place at one of our camps. We thank the fair for its continued support. For more information, parents can go to our website at”

Katie Rishebarger, 4-H Science on the Move coordinator, set up several challenging activities for kids. “Most of what we do is hands-on science, so we brought our paper rockets and snap circuits to teach kids about rocketry and electricity.”

Kimberly Legette, a 4-H alumnus who is currently a student at Claflin University in Orangeburg, said that her years of experience in 4-H has helped her develop valuable leadership skills.

“I am an Early Childhood Education major, and 4-H has given me the confidence to pursue my dreams,” Legette said. “I’ve been helping to recruit potential 4-Hers at Sparkleberry Fair for four years – and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Tyler Wright, a Clemson student who is an expert in falconry, showed off his pet falcon – a female red-tailed hawk – to adoring fair-goers. “I had a wonderful time teaching young people and adults about the conservation of our native wildlife and what we can do to help.”

Each year, the fair’s committee chooses a ceremonial theme. The 2016 fair honored area law enforcement personnel for their faithful and loyal service, including preventing crime and being open and responsive to the needs of the community. The large gathering of officers included Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, Forest Acres Police Chief Gene Sealy, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, Elgin Police Chief Harold Brown and Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews.

“They do not ask for special recognition, but they are deserving of the best this county has to offer,” Sparkleberry Country Fair chairman John Monroe said. “We thank them for making our community a safer place to live and raise our families.”

As part of the fair’s opening ceremony, four members of a Special Forces Association Parachute Team – which was making its eighth appearance at Sparkleberry – thrilled a throng of spectators with a spectacular and colorful jump over the fairgrounds that was highlighted by a 20- by 40-foot American flag.

“We dropped in four paratroopers, and we all had a great time,” said team leader Bo Kinnison, who was joined by William and Brenda Gatter and Robert Scott. “We can’t thank everybody enough for inviting the team down, and we hope to come back and see everyone again next year.”

Proceeds from the fair go to grants and scholarships that are distributed to grammar, middle and high schools. There were 16 scholarship winners from the 2015 fair who received $1,000 toward their college educations, and also $15,000 in grants to grammar and middle schools to fund 28 teacher projects. Over the course of its history, the fair has contributed more than $750,000 to education in District II schools.


Clemson Cooperative Extension, Regulatory Services and Livestock-Poultry Health
Clemson Cooperative Extension
Regulatory Services and Livestock-Poultry Health fulfill one-third of Clemson University’s land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension by serving as the primary public service outreach arms of the university.

The Sandhill Research and Education Center
The Sandhill Research and Education Center
in Columbia is one of five Clemson University Research and Education Centers located across the state. It was established in 1926 for agricultural research. The focus of Sandhill has evolved to meet the changing needs of South Carolina, and it is currently home to Clemson’s revitalized agribusiness program.