Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Meet Me at the Fair

I had never gone to a farmers' fair until my mid-20s, and even then I only attended the first time out of sheer boredom. I was writing my dissertation and would do nearly anything to avoid all those blank pages that I needed to fill with Gertrude Stein's reception history. I'd polish my shoes, rearrange my records in alphabetical order, reorder my bookshelves by subject, clean the house, wash my car, anything to avoid sitting in front of my word processor and do the work at hand. That ultimately involved deciding to go to the Albermarle County Farmers' Fair one night, and I've never looked back.

I'm just glad that we still have enough farms to fill a farmers' fair, that 4-H Clubs still exist. This wasn't surprising in Central Virginia in the late '80s, but in suburban Pennsylvania in 2009 it feels like the simple existence of cucumber-growing must be celebrated. What makes a farmers' fair is not the carnival rides, nor the funnel cake, nor the rigged games of chance. What makes such a fair is the agricultural tents, the rows and rows of testimony to our agricultural heritage and the proof that we may yet have an agricultural future.

What can top the sight of a blue-ribbon zucchini, looking just like any other zucchini but for some reason crowned for some sort of waxy excellence? That can only be topped by a tent full of baby goats, goats of every variety running up to be petted, or a tent full of piglets squealing. Is anything more interesting than a display of winning ears of corn, each looking just like an ear of corn, its excellence a secret knowledge, or at least secret to someone who has always just grabbed corn, paid for it, and eaten it? Farmers' fairs are full of such secrets: what makes a great carrot, why one chicken is better than another. And they celebrate kids who grow these carrots well, kids who know how to raise a chicken. Our schools don't do that. Our culture doesn't do that. Our economy doesn't do that. Thank god for 4-H.

It's also not every day that you can watch a tractor pull. Or a 16 year-old from the middle of nowhere crowned Corn Queen. It's not every day that you can wander into a place where people still enter tractor pulls or fair queen contests. It's not every day that you can find a place where pie baking is a death match. Or where men in suspenders recline against picnic tables, listening to a weird but pleasant hybrid of country and polka. It's not every day that you are offered a glimpse of our vanishing rural culture, so for that one week a year when that glimpse is offered it's best to take it before it's too late.

The arrival of the cicadas signifies the slowing down of summer, the beginnings of the harvest, and the opening of county fairs everywhere. Locally, the Plainfield Farmer's Fair runs this week; the Warren County Fair begins next week. Even if you don't live in eastern PA, there's surely some sort of farmers' fair near you; support them while you can.


tunsie said...

My brother use 2 take the kids 2 the farm,because he wanted them 2 know that fruit and vegetables come from the farm,not the supermarket.avoid the person who goes 2 the market and shops at the frozen prepared foods aisle.U will eat bad food all your neighbor says that when he wants chicken.he buys a live one and PROCESSES it,a little drastic,but that is how europeans favorite girl told me tunsie she doesn't know how 2 cook,R U going 2 eat 3 meals a day out,EVERYDAY, I LOVE YOU EL.......tunsie.tunsie.tunsie

J. SPIKE ROGAN said...

I'll be looking to defend my second place Adult Pedal Tractor Pull this year. (Plainsfield Farmer Fair)

Hopefully I can take first. I have been using Barry Bond's folks to help beef me up.

Saturday 1 PM EST. $1 to enter. All ages and sexes can partake.