There was a time when the San Mateo County Fair was one giant expo of quilters and jam-makers and pie bakers, just as there was a point at which the area around it was a giant checkerboard of farmland and orchards.
Now that area is dotted with tech companies, and many of the quilters of yore have been supplanted by engineers who make computer chips. Fortunately, event producers at the fair have found a way to bring those chips into the craft realm. In fact, this year they'll be sitting within spitting distance of the prize-winning pies.
The San Mateo County Fair, which opens Saturday, unveiled its Technology and Industrial Arts section two years ago. But it wasn't until this year that the concept really began taking shape, said Gabriel Colaluca, who now helms that department. The fair's general manager, Chris Carpenter, tapped Colaluca because he has a strong background in event production and myriad connections in the tech industry. He's promised to add a new veneer to an event that might otherwise seem quaint to some.
Among the additions this year are a 3-D printer, a Frisbee-throwing robot made by students at Aragon High School, and a "reverse-engineering" exhibit where kids can take apart VCRs and computers to see how they work. Colaluca also has organized competitions in coding and app-making, and he deputized employees of local computer companies to judge them.
"Here's what's funny," he said. "In the old days, you'd have a panel, and you'd have the judges walk by and look at the quilt or spoon out the jam."
Now he takes submissions by email and forwards them to judges, who comb through the lines of code to see if it's innovative and interesting — or if it's merely cut and pasted from another program. The new normal for a fair in Silicon Valley is that much of the pageantry now happens online.
But Colaluca hastens to add that a strong tech element won't detract from the other festivities.
"There's always been an 'industrial arts' component of these fairs," he explained. "People would do woodworking and metal shop, and today it's moved beyond that into computer tech."
The San Mateo County Fair has more access to that world by virtue of its geography, he said, and it helps feed the fair's goal to "move into the future."
Yet that shouldn't override the fair's more traditional features, such as pig races and pie-eating contests. Some people will still come strictly for the rides. Others will bring their canned peaches or savory jams in hope of snagging a ribbon. A good fair should always have aspirational elements, Colaluca said, but some things should always stay the same.
San Mateo County Fair
Where: San Mateo County Event Center, 2495 S. Delaware St., San Mateo
When: Saturday-June 16
High tech meets hoedown this weekend when the San Mateo County Fair returns to the San Mateo Event Center.