IF you're stuck for something to do with the family this weekend, you could do far worse than head out to Sutton Park on Sunday.
The occasion? The annual Huby and Sutton Show.
It's a classic country show, featuring everything from a gymkhana to a scarecrow competition, buggy driving, showjumping, classic cars, a tug of war and the judging of livestock and farm produce of every description. The classes range from best bullock (Belgian Blue or Belgian Blue Cross up to 450 kilos) to best ewe or shearling ewe, best Old English game fowl, and even best jar of lemon curd.
Then, on Tuesday, the action moves to Welburn Park at Kirkbymoorside where, in a natural amphitheatre, one of the largest (and possibly oldest) one-day agricultural shows in the country will be held.
Tuesday is the day of the 148th Ryedale Show.
"We think it's one of the best one-day shows in Yorkshire, if not in England," says show secretary Tom Watson. It's a good, traditional show, he says – nothing fancy, like monster trucks, just a great day out for all the family.
There will be eight rings running throughout the day, showing everything from prime cattle to horses, sheep, pigs and goats; sheep dog trials; a dog show; children's classes, WI cake stalls, bric a brac stalls, trade stands, farm machinery to inspect, a gymkhana, children's races and more.
"There's something for everyone," says Mr Watson. "We've got a lovely showground in a natural amphitheatre, and we get people coming from far and wide, from all over the country."
Last year, 15,000 people flocked to the show, despite heavy rain and thunderstorms that flattened some of the showground marquees earlier in the week.
Hopefully there will be no repeat of that this year. At time of writing, the weather forecast for the first half of next week was looking pretty good, with the Met Office forecasting "lengthy periods of fine, dry and warm weather" and "occasional rain and brisk winds".
If you are someone who spends most of your time in a big town or city, and who does your shopping at the local supermarket, shows such as Huby and Ryedale are a great way to learn a bit more about country life, and about where and how the food on your plate is produced.
"They're a great day out, but also a real opportunity to learn more about food and farming, and to talk to people you may never normally get a chance to speak to," says Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, which organises the grandaddy of all the shows, the Great Yorkshire Show which,in earlier this month had 130,000 people through the gates at the Great Yorkshire Showground.
Tom Watson agrees. The Ryedale Show is popular with country people, but also with visitors and tourists, he says. "It is a great chance to come and meet some farmers. They enjoy explaining to people about the work they do."
The shows are above all important events in the life of rural Yorkshire. They are an opportunity for farmers to show off their finest livestock and produce, and to compete for prestigious prizes that recognise their hard work and can improve the value of a breeding line.
They are a chance to check out the latest farming machinery, to attend trade exhibitions, and to catch up on new developments in farming.
But above all, they're great social occasions.
The importance of that can't be overlooked, says Lucinda Douglas of the National Farmers' Union. "It's pretty well documented that agriculture as a sector is quite isolated," she says. "So livestock markets and agricultural shows are a great place for farmers to meet up and socialise."
Nigel Pulling agrees.
"Farming can be quite lonely, especially with the smaller number of people working on farms now," he says. "The shows can be one of the few times that people actually leave the farm. Rural and farming communities often feel marginalised. The shows are a time when they take centre stage: a real chance for rural communities to get together and meet up in a relaxed atmosphere to celebrate their industry."
And what, if anything, do the shows reveal about the health of the farming industry in Yorkshire today?
Well, that farming is continually evolving, for a start, says the NFU's Lucinda Douglas. It is much more technical these days, with science and technology (including tractors fitted with GPS systems) being used for example to make crop-planting more efficient, and to increase yields while reducing the amount of seed and fertiliser needed, and cutting waste.
Farming remains as frustrating as it's ever been, she says. Crop yields such as wheat are expected to be good this year. But because there is going to be plenty of wheat around, not only in the UK but globally, the value of the wheat crop will be depressed. "So it's swings and roundabouts."
But there is much more optimism in the industry than there was a decade or so ago, says Nigel Pulling.
Farming in the UK went through a horrendous time, with scares such as BSE and foot and mouth. "Farmers couldn't make any money. They were under so much pressure."
More could still be done, for example by big supermarket chains, to promote home-grown produce, he says.
But with a growing world population needing more and more food, and greater interest on the part of ordinary people about where and how the food on their plate was produced, the importance of farming and agriculture is recognised now in a way it perhaps wasn't in the recent past.
Farming is actually several industries in one, and they all have their ups and downs, Mr Pulling says. "But there is more knowledge about farming. It is no longer dismissed as just muddy boots. There is pressure to produce as much, if not more food. But people are wanting to understand more. I haven't yet met anybody who doesn't eat – and farms are where it comes from."
Selected upcoming agricultural shows and other summer events:
• Sunday July 27: Huby and Sutton Show, Sutton Park. Admission: adults £8, OAPs £6, children £4, family £18.
• Tuesday July 29: Ryedale Show, Welburn Park, Kirkbymoorside. Tickets £8 (£7 senior citizens and children aged 11-16, £3 children 5-10, free for children under 5) on entry. Free parking.
• July 31-August 1: Pickering Traction Engine Rally, Pickering Showground
• August 3: Tockwith & District Agricultural Show, Tockwith
• August 6: Thornton-le-Dale Show
• August 9-11: Whitby Regatta
• August 10: Ripley Agricultural Show
• August 16: Rosedale and District Annual Show
• August 16-22: Whitby Folk Week
• August 22-24: Galtres Parklands Festival, Duncombe Park, Helmsley
• August 23: Wensleydale Agricultural Show, near Leyburn
• August 30: Bilsdale Show, Thornhill Farm, between Stokesley and Helmsley