Summer around here ends with the Fonda Fair, our local county fair which closes on Labor day. When the fair is over, summer is over. Kids go back to school and we begin in earnest selling our lambs.
Plate of deep fried vegetables
Go Swifty, Go!
There have been County fairs in the US since before it was the US. There’s some dispute whether the first county fair was held in Fredericksburg, VA (1738) or York, PA (1765) but the first state fair was held in Syracuse, NY in 1841. Then, as in now, the fair was an opportunity to celebrate and sell the successes of agriculture and the bounty of the harvest. You can submit your tomatoes, potatoes, zinnias, and hops all for judging and potential ribbons. In Fonda, as at all the best fairs, there are pig races (Go, Swifty Go!) and log rolling demos. There are opportunities to admire horses, cows, goats, chickens, geese, ducks, bunnies and some fabulous sheep (perhaps a little bias here). There are horse shows and tractor pulls. In Fonda, we don’t have a huge travelling freak show (no bed of nails to be seen anywhere), but there is a scaly lady. We passed on going to visit her – I thought she might make us feel itchy. There is a Midway filled with games of skill and chance. Local politicians come out in force under the grand stand seats to meet their constituents. There is something for everyone.
Butter sculptures started being displayed at fairs in 1903. They were a blatant (and popular) promotion by the dairy industry to make folks think about butter instead of margarine. The sculptures are often “agriculturally themed” depicting farms or cows or horses and foals. The subjects have varied widely to include everything from sports heroes to scenes of family life and historic figures and events. Their artistic heyday was the late 1800s and early 1900s. I don’t know if there is a formal school of butter sculptures, but this year’s carving at the Fonda Fair was classic. Phyllis Lapley molded a couple holding a chicken with their lamb and more chickens scattered around them. What a great use of churned milk fats.
Brown Jersey cow
Of course, it is hard to compete with state fairs where sculptures are life size people of animals. Many of these really large sculptures have scaffolding under the butter of wood or wire for strength and stability. It turns out that butter just isn’t as strong as stone. Some fairs have sculpting contests or exhibits where you can watch the artists at work. The Minnesota State Fair commissions carvings in butter of the twelve finalists for Dairy Princess. A single carver, Linda Christensen does one a day from 90 lb. blocks of butter. To do the carving, each live princess poses wrapped in winter garb in a chilled display case. Christensen takes about six hours to carve her likeness in front of fairgoers. On the closing day of the fair, each dairy princess gets to take her likeness home.
Agricultural fairs remain an authentic part of the American landscape. They represent a “simpler” time and place. While they may seem dated, they still embody much of what agriculture is and does today.
In : Farm Life
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