A lot of going to the Kern County Fair is about traditions. We all have those one or two (or more) food concessions we have to get, that exhibit we always make sure to check out or the one ride we absolutely must go on.

But another good fair tradition is to always check out what's new.

That's why, at the fair's media preview day, I didn't need to be asked twice if I'd like to feed a stingray at the fair's Stingray Encounter, a traveling and self-contained exhibit that's new this year. 

As an animal lover, I'm always slightly torn about animals as entertainment, wanting to learn more about them up-close while wishing they'd been left alone in their natural habitat. But these little stingrays seemed pretty content to swim around in their tank getting pats on the back and, better yet, some food from all those strange hands coming their way.

Touching the stingray, it felt pretty much like I expected: wet, smooth and a little slippery, though I was surprised by the hard points along the middle. The man who invited the group of journalists to hop off their tour tram and pet some stingrays later asked if anyone would like to feed them. I immediately said yes and was given a small piece of food (my guess is shrimp) to put between my fingers and place my hand flat on the bottom of the tank.

It didn't take long before a stingray swam up to me and took the piece of food, though I didn't know when exactly it had actually taken its snack, since it hovered over my hand for a while before I pulled it up. I think it was hoping I had more food hidden under my hand.

The Stingray Encounter is free, but it costs $3 to feed them.

And going back to traditions: a couple of mine revolve around food. While most people's go-to fair foods are corndogs, barbecue and bacon-anything, I do not eat meat, so those are all out for me. 

Every year, though, I have to hit up the Willamette Valley Pie Company booth, where I'll get the Oregon berry cobbler, a divine mix of marionberry, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and boysenberry. Although this is only the third year this vendor has been at the fair, but it only took one bite for the tradition to start. Same with the giant salted pretzel from PHD & Me, which became an instant must-have when I first had it when they started selling at the fair in 2015. 

This year, I'm also looking forward to trying the cheese-on-a-stick from Maddy Moo's, which seems to sell all things cheese, including rainbow grilled cheese, deep-fried grilled cheese, cheese curds, mac and cheese and more. I hope to get some gelato from Fabe's, as well. Maybe a simple scoop on a cone, as those giant $12 milkshakes they sell look almost as intimidating as they do delicious.

Let's just say, it's a good thing I'm not vegan.

Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.

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