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Farm Museum fair draws record crowd

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, arm-wrestling aficionados and a record number of other people flocked to the Queens County Farm Museum fair this weekend to indulge themselves in the sights, smells and tastes of an event characterized by blue-ribbon produce and craft contests, children screaming with delight while watching pig races, and a bevy of food options that included fried Oreos, spicy pickles and hot dogs.

Bloomberg was one of more than 18,000 people to attend the 27th annual fair at the farm in Floral Park, a record for the city’s sole working historical farm, according to Queens County Farm Museum Executive Director Amy Boncardo.

“Talking to people, I’ve noticed this year we have more and more people come from far away — Manhattan, Staten Island, Suffolk County — than ever before,” Boncardo said. “We also have a record number of entries in things like culinary arts and produce.”

The mayor answered a series of questions about everything from education to the Willets Point redevelopment during the hour he spent at the event Sunday. He also managed to win a stuffed pink panda for 4-year-old Roslyn, L.I., resident Dina Nabavian; try sour Cajun and hot and spicy pickles from The Pickle People’s booth; and admire an 8-month-old, 200-pound pig sunning himself in his pen Sunday — one day before he was to be shipped to the slaughterhouse, farm officials said.

Howard Beach resident M. Rocco, who declined to give her full first name, told the mayor she wanted the city to work harder for gifted students in the borough.

“We’re trying to do more with the gifted programs in the city,” Bloomberg told Rocco. “Systems are built for the average, but we have to make sure we don’t forget about the outliers.”

Rocco, whose daughter attends the Scholars Academy in the Rockaways, said she was ultimately unsatisfied with the mayor’s response.

“Rather than grouping people according to age, group people according to ability,” Rocco said. “My daughter can do things at a college level.”

Little Neck resident Erik Effros asked Bloomberg for an update on the Willets Point redevelopment.

“That battle is over,” Bloomberg told Effros.

Effros said “any redevelopment” for Willets Point is a good thing. The city plans to transform the industrial expanse into a commercial and residential area.

“Willets Point has been a blight on the borough for a long time,” Effros said. “Anything that creates jobs, especially Queens jobs, is a good thing.”

The mayor was not the only one to descend upon the fair. Hundreds gathered to watch the fair’s newest addition, an arm-wrestling competition sponsored by the New York Arm Wrestling Association.

“This tournament is catered to introducing the average Joe out there to arm wrestling,” said Gary Roberts, the president of MYARMTV, a Web site that broadcasts arm wrestling matches from throughout the world.

Hungarian native Lajos Konya, who has won five arm wrestling competitions in the tri-borough area, competed in Sunday’s event.

“I do a lot of training to prepare for this,” Konya said. “I lift weights.”

Bellerose resident Jenny O’Sullivan brought her 4-year-old and 2-year-old sons, Brendan and Dylan, with her to the fair that she said has grown exponentially in recent years.

“It’s so much more developed than when we started coming here when Brendan was a baby,” she said. “There’s so much more to do and many more vendors. It’s really nice.”

There were more than 1,500 agricultural entries and 800 arts and crafts entries in this year’s fair, Boncardo said. Rows of jams, pies and other sweets lined table after table in fair tents, many of them — such as the Paska cake or strawberry rhubarb — boasting blue award ribbons.

Though plenty was different this year, fair-goers were pleased to see some things remained the same, including the pig races.

“They were so cute,” said 5-year-old Bellerose resident Angelina Gargano of the racing pigs that had such names as Jerry Swinefeld and Jean-Claude Van Ham.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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