A look ahead to the 2023 Kent County Show in July

‘What makes the event so special is its breadth,’ says the show’s General Manager, Nikki Dorkings. ‘Yes, you’ll find traditional activities, such as the judging of farm animals – cattle, sheep and more – by experts in the show ring, or with the lovely display of miniature gardens created by Kent schoolchildren, but there’s also show-jumping, dog agility events and birds of prey to admire, plus lots of local produce to sample too. There’s the chance to get up close and personal with some wonderful vintage steam tractors that will be proudly displayed by their owners, you can try your hand at go-karting, and this year, we’ll even have a bright red Pitts Special plane looping-the-loop overhead!’

Plenty to admire on the horticultural front. Credit: Kent County Show/Thomas Alexander

Nikki would be the first to say she’ll be feeling excitement tinged with nerves when the gates open on Friday July 7 to welcome the first of some 75,000 visitors expected to attend over the three days. ‘It’s a big sense of responsibility,’ she says. ‘You know everyone wants to have a great time and that’s certainly what we’ll give them, the team and volunteers work extremely hard to put this event on and without them, it just simply wouldn’t happen.’ And it’s when those gates open, of course, that all that hard work comes together.

This year is an especially important one for the Kent County Agricultural Society (KCAS), the registered charity behind the Show. Supporting the county’s farming community since 1923, it celebrates its centenary this year. ‘This isn’t the 100th County Show, though – World World War 2 and the pandemic plus various other events meant it hasn’t taken place every year, and it’s in fact the 92nd this year’ explains Julian Barnes, who has Chaired the Society since 2022, was a Kent Life Food Hero award-winner in 2016 and whose family runs award-winning Biddenden Vineyards. Whatever the dates, a sense of history inevitably runs through every Show. ‘As a Society, we certainly reflect the changes we’ve seen over the years, and the continuity, too – we know that children who have visited us in the past and are now grown up return to the Show with their own children. Before I became Chairman I’d exhibited our wines, ciders and juice at the Show for over 40 years and I’ve always seen the event as an important, “shop window” for the county; connecting agriculture and the countryside with those that live around it.’

Nikk Dorkings at her desk Credit Kent County Show

With the chance it offers to mingle with friends, the show is as much a social event as an agricultural one, an unmissable date in the diaries of many. Joe Cain is certainly someone whose life wouldn’t be the same had he not visited the Show as part of the Young Farmer organisation – he met his partner Millie there and , this year, their five-year-old daughter Lilly is hoping to show her LLeyn sheep in the Young Handlers class, and perhaps win herself a rosette in the process.

Richard Maylam, meanwhile, visited his first Kent County Show aged five and has been involved as a KCAS council member and steward for 47 years: ‘As my grandfather used to say, I’m as old as my hair and a little older than my teeth, ‘ he says. ‘One of the things that keeps stewards like me returning year after year is gratitude to those who’ve gone before us who’ve helped make the Show what it is today – we still remember them.’ This year, Richard will be in the sponsors’ area, greeting VIPS and showing them to the arena, where they will present prizes. ‘And we’ve seen plenty of VIPs over the years – the late Queen came in 1989 and the Duke of Kent is a regular visitor,’ A retired livestock farmer himself now living in Charing, Richard reared Sussex Cattle and Kent sheep from his farm in Yalding: ‘And that Kent sheep breed – now more commonly known as Romney – went on to conquer Australia and New Zealand, so that’s something from Kent that’s had an impact on food production world wide.’ Richard loves the show primarily for the chance to connect with people. ‘Farmers are a stable bunch,’ he says. ‘We’ll see generations coming and going – my own great-grandfather was very involved in the show and now I am too. And it’s all about reaching out to that next generation, sharing what we know and growing for the future.’

The showjumping competition attracts competitors from around the southeast. Credit Kent County Show Thomas Alexander

Given the number of visitors and the scale of the showground, which runs to some 200 acres of outdoor space and woodland, organising the event is quite some undertaking. Fortunately KCAS organises another event each May that’s not only the ideal run-up to July’s event but highly successful in its own right. This year, KCAS’s Living Land event welcomed a record number of 2,900 children from primary school years 3 and 4, drawn from over 60 schools across Kent. Over a single day, the enthusiastic visitors got to hear about farming, agriculture, horticulture and the countryside through five interactive areas, meeting a wide range of animals and learning about how livestock are farmed and reared for food and animal-based products. Aspects of that event will be recreated at July’s County Show in the Living Land Village, ensuring there’s plenty to keep children (and their accompanying adults) occupied. They can, for instance, milk Milkshake the cow, get up close and personal with a selection of rare-breed animals, ride a pedal tractor and discover more about the sort of fruits grown in Kent. ‘This area is ultra hands-on and we always aim to offer visitors that little bit extra,’ explains Sally Higgins, who organises Living Land. ‘For instance, we’ve got a cookery expert coming in, visitors will be able sample the fruit, plant fruit trees and we’ll have recipe cards relating to the fruit to take home. It’s all about educating people as to what’s involved in farming and food production in as lively and interactive a way as possible.’

Stall galore to explore Credit Kent County Show/Thomas Alexander

Working at her very first show this year as part of the Kent Show team is Alice Bennett, who helps with Equine and Livestock coordination. Her previous role as a riding instructor at Rye Street Farm Equestrian Centre in Cliff has stood her in good stead for this job, which she took on in February. ‘Since applications opened in late March, we’ve had 134 entries for horse-showing and 26 for show-jumping, with contestants drawn from across the southeast. I’m especially looking forward to the Shetland Pony Grand National, though, which should be a lot of fun as the animals are pretty adorable,’ she says.

While on-site contractors handle issues such as providing stabling, bedding and hay for the competing horses, it’s Alice’s job to help ensure all contestants are registered and that a schedule for the day comes together. ‘What’s amazed me is how many things there are to think about,’ she says, ‘For instance: getting in the flowers that go round the jumps in the arena and making sure the water-jump is properly lined and filled – there are so many little details. It’s all come together really well, though, and now I’m just looking forward to seeing visitors able to enjoy the end result of all our work.’ Will there be plenty of down time for the team afterwards? Not really, she says: ‘Because this is a year-round job, as soon as we’ve got 2023 behind us, we’ll be straight on to planning The Kent County Show, 2024!’

The Kent County Show, 7-9 July, kentshow.co.uk