FAIRLEA — Putting finishing touches on tiny hand-carved figurines, each one made from a single block of holly, Eugene Worlledge has staked out a prime location to sell his artworks at the 2019 State Fair of West Virginia.

Everything from elegant canes crafted out of mahogany and black walnut to delicate circular pendants is displayed on the tables that form the Mt. Lookout man’s booth, just inside the front doors of the West Virginia Building.

Each piece has a story to go along with it. A figure of a woman in a chair, surrounded by cats, was inspired by his feline-loving daughter, Worlledge explains. And a miniature man gazing in dismay at the broken axe handle in his grip recreates an actual wood-chopping incident gone awry that the artist personally witnessed.

Despite showing and selling his carvings at the State Fair on and off for 45 or 46 years, Worlledge says it’s only a hobby, not an occupation.

“This is just for my own pleasure,” he says. “I try to challenge myself, just to see if I can do it.”

The obvious answer to that question is yes, he can.

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With temperatures soaring to nearly 90 degrees on the fair’s opening day Thursday, one new vendor had just the remedy for the overheated masses.

Sunset Berry Farm & Produce, a welcome presence at farmers markets in Greenbrier and Monroe counties, is offering chilly slices of that summer staple, watermelon, from a booth tucked into a corner of the Artisans Barn, behind the Underwood Building.

Owner Jennifer Gilkerson notes that, at present, all of the farm’s famed strawberry patches are planted with watermelons to meet the seasonal demand. If the farm runs out of watermelon, the plan is to obtain regionally-sourced melons from a local IGA grocery store.

Fairground sales are just the tip of the iceberg, however, Gilkerson says. Also a Gleaning Project leader, Gilkerson proudly reveals that students in the Greenbrier Valley are growing watermelons now as part of an educational endeavor in which Sunset Berry is partnering with T.L. Fruits & Vegetables to teach the young people how to grow and sell a product.

In addition, schools in five counties — Monroe, Greenbrier, Summers, Mercer and Wayne — are buying locally-grown watermelons to be served in their cafeterias.

“We’re getting off to a successful start,” Gilkerson says, pointing out that her five-year plan calls for all 55 of West Virginia’s school systems to buy watermelons from farms in their areas of the state.

And, in case anyone is wondering why a strawberry farm is producing watermelons, the answer is simple: unlike strawberries, which are not berries in the botanical sense, watermelons are indeed members of the berry family. Mystery solved.

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The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine has long been practically a fixture at the State Fair, and this year is no different. Some 200 medical students from the Lewisburg school are volunteering to man hour-long shifts in an air conditioned booth under the grandstand, conducting blood pressure checks for fairgoers and encouraging children to participate in the “Teddy Bear Clinic.”

A lineup of cuddly bears await examination by the clinic’s visiting “physicians,” as children perform such medical tasks as checking heartbeats, taking temperatures and looking into ears.

“The idea is that doing these things helps kids not to be so afraid when they have to go to the doctor,” explains Marilea Butcher, WVSOM’s vice president for communications and administrative affairs. “They can be the pretend doctor and take care of the bear.”

WVSOM students are working in the booth after class and on weekends during the fair, with a faculty physician overseeing their work. A nurse from the school’s Clinical Evaluation Center is on duty during the day.

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Bearing the theme “Summer’s Greatest Adventure,” the 95th edition of the State Fair of West Virginia continues through Aug. 17. For more information, visit statefairofwv.com or call 304-645-1090.

— Email: talvey@register-herald.com

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