With fall fair season in full swing, it got me thinking about the importance of fall fairs and also how some have struggled. I recently attended the Wellesley-North Easthope Fall Fair after entering a pie in a political pie contest among councillors. Much to my surprise, the elderberry pie that I made from berries grown on my family’s farm won! I had heard that pies were to be auctioned off, so I thought I would make an appearance. I had never been to the Wellesley Fair before, so I was eager to see what it had to offer.
Opening night of the fair was standing room only with people gathered for the idol and fair ambassador competitions followed by the annual auction. I watched the crowd and I would say that at least half of the people were there for the idol competition. I should also add that there were a number of exhibits. Wellesley should be proud of their little fair!
I remember going home and telling my parents how impressed I was with the fair and my dad told me how he remembered showing at that fair. My dad’s side of the family – the Brodhagens – were avid fairgoers and exhibited cattle, grain and flowers in Perth, Wellington and Huron counties.
Days later, my 80-year-old uncle came by the farm and asked if we were going to be exhibiting at the Milverton Fall Fair. To be honest, I hadn’t planned on it as we had a number of projects we needed to tackle on the farm. I told him he could help himself to flowers or vegetables in the garden. I decided to go out and help him gather. Then I decided I would also show.
My uncle has been exhibiting at the fair for 60 years. After showing calves during my 4-H days, I haven’t entered exhibits, only attended fairs. My brother and I spent the night going through the fair book and plotting what we would enter and how we’d get it all done before dark. We turned the garage into a flower- arranging studio and worked until 10:30 p.m. at night. It was fun, but it was also a lot of work. I took our entries to the fair the next morning and later that day we found out that we won a few of the categories. The unfortunate part was that there weren’t many exhibits and my brother and I were probably the youngest people entering in the fair.
That night I got talking to the Pampered Chef lady. She had a booth at the fair. When I asked about the ambassador competition, she said “this doesn’t mean anything to me.” She goes to fairs for the booths and the shopping. I thought to myself, “that’s not the point of a fall fair” but after thinking about it a little longer, I wondered if she had a point.
Maybe we need to start thinking of non-traditional ways to draw people to the fair? The Wellesley Fair had an idol competition. Other fairs bring in vendors to add shopping or a unique food experience or country concerts. I look at the events that draw the crowds at fairs and for the most part it isn’t the displays that feature homemaking competitions or the livestock shows – it’s the tractor pulls and the country concerts.
How do we give a nod to our rural roots while also providing entertainment to attract more city visitors? This is tough as fairs run on volunteers and there are fewer people that have time or interest in devoting time to helping with a fair. Thankfully, there are still some incredible community volunteers that sit on fair boards and are happy to help. To those people – thank you for making our communities richer and for helping showcase agriculture and rural life.
We also have the challenge of creating entertainment that attracts people of all ages, including my generation, millennials, and also non-agriculture audiences. Let’s face it: rural demographics have changed dramatically since fall fairs began. People are less likely to have a connection to farming and we’re seeing more urbanities move to rural areas to seek a better life. Fair societies are tasked with keeping staple competitions and exhibits, while also introducing new activities to attract in a crowd.
Fall fairs are a special tradition in rural Ontario and I hope that they continue in modern times. Only time will tell. Here are a few reasons why fairs are important to rural communities and why you should support them:
1) Economic prosperity – there’s an economic benefit to fall fairs. People spend money when they go to the fair, not only at the fairgrounds, but often in the community where the fair is located. Fairs provide a boost to small businesses.
2) Showcases agriculture and rural life – fall fairs are an opportunity to celebrate around harvest time and show the best livestock genetics or the art of preserving, baking or crafting skills.
3) Creates competition – allows people to show off their hard work whether that is a 4-H project calf, baking a pie, quilting or flower arranging.
4) Learn something new – there’s often an educational element to many fairs whether it’s teaching people where their food comes from or activities for families with kids.
5) Brings people together – an opportunity for the community to come together, both rural and urban.◊