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Why fall fairs are important

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Depending on where you live, your fall fairs may take place before school starts or after school starts. For me, the annual family visit to the Herkimer County Fair always signified one more week of freedom before another school year. But fairs are far more important than simply being a way for children to have one last hurrah and adults to enjoy a staggering number of calories, all in the spirit of good fun.

Fall fairs are where a lot of farmers get a chance to have their moment in the sun. They toil away all spring and summer, feeding, growing, hoping for the right amount of rain. Come late August, September and October, though, and they get to show off, particularly with their livestock. And not only do they get to showcase the best cows, chickens, pigs, rabbits and produce they have, they get to interact with people who want to learn more about those animals and those foods.

According to Ontario Regional Economic Development, a recent study indicated that three-quarters of fair attendees think that agricultural education is an important component of fair attendance. And fairs are win-win-win situations – they educate, grow marketing opportunities and showcase the talent of farmers and they pump dollars into the local economy.

Arcadia Publishing notes that in the U.S., agricultural fairs did not begin to catch on until the early 19th century, when the first American fair took place in Pittsfield, MA. This early fair, organized by Elkanah Watson in 1807, was a small affair consisting of only sheep shearing demonstrations. At Watson’s urging, other area farmers began to showcase their livestock at public gatherings, where they were then judged and awarded for the quality of their animals. He further developed his vision of what would become county fairs over the years, later including activities for men, women and children and allowing merchants to sell goods at the event.

These ideas quickly spread, and many small rural communities began hosting their own versions of fairs throughout the Northeast and Midwest. The first state fair was organized by New York State back in 1841. (Fun facts!)

There’s nothing quite like supporting the next generation of farmers at the fair. Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

More than a chance for adult farmers to do their thing, however, fairs are critical places for children to learn and participate in agriculture. The showing aspect of 4-H teaches kids the importance of caring for their animals, training them for judging and perhaps even selling them. The importance of this lesson in responsibility cannot be overstated. The elation on their faces when they are awarded ribbons is something that cannot be matched. If you’re not participating in a fair show, definitely attend one. You’ll see what I mean.

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