Time for the Fair!

When the leaves are drenched with color, and birds start flocking in the yard … when there’s frost upon the pumpkin and a nip in the morning that lets you see your breath, (telling you, of course, that it’s time to bring the quilts back out of the attic to air) … then you know it’s … Time for the Fair!  Join Mountain Farmgirl Cathi Belcher as she discovers the old-fashioned, homespun fun of a good old-time country fair!

October in these parts spells F-A-I-R, and that means a weeklong line-up of everything that tickles a Farmgirl’s heart! ‘Our’  fair is located in Fryeburg, Maine, just a stone’s throw away from my NH mountaintop; and only about 6 or 8 miles perhaps as the crow flies.

When I was growing up back in the Hudson Valley, our annual agricultural event was  was held in Orange County, NY. As kids, we couldn’t wait for it to come every August!  First held on November 17, 1841, that one-day event attracted farmers from far and wide to exhibits of cattle, horses and vegetables, while the women brought baked goods, flowers and fancy embroidery that were displayed in the old courthouse. The fair grew over the years, attracting increasing numbers of spectators and patrons, so many in fact, that in 1897, with attendance of over 10,000, the fair moved to its current (and much larger) site. That year, and for many years after, my husband’s great-grandfather, a retired clergyman and by then gentleman farmer, presided over the Orange County Agricultural Society, which at that time oversaw the county fair.  Today I hear it draws over 250,000 people during its mid-summer spectacle of carnival rides, concessions, commercialism and concerts, but sad to say, it has lost most of its old-fashioned country flavor. I fear Great-Grandfather would spin in his grave to see it now.

Not so, however, the Fryeburg Fair!  This year (with our oldest married and the next two in college), it remained for just my husband, our youngest son Joshua and I to make the annual pilgrimage, but what we lacked in numbers we made up for in fun!  The day was PERFECT … a bright blue, cloudless sky, framed by the vibrant reds of maple leaves and the yellows of birches and rusty orange oaks. There was more than a nip in the air that morning as we liberally applied the elbow grease to scrape ice off the windshield, but it warmed nicely to the upper 60’s by the time we ate our lunch in the midday sun.  Not a better day nor time has ever been had! The first fair was held 160 years ago in 1851 and has since grown to become the state’s largest agricultural fair, with over 300,000 attending annually. This year the first weekend was a total washout with blinding, driving rains that kept almost everyone (animals included) safe at home or well under cover. Fortunately, as the week progressed, the weather improved drastically to its more typical “fair” weather days!


Our Fryeburg Fair opens the beginning of October each fall (this year Oct. 2nd) and spans an 8-day period ending the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend. Although it started out on 26 acres, today the fair covers more than 185, and encompasses 100 separate buildings for expos and livestock! Even in today’s economy, attendance fees are still a bargain: if you’re under 12 or a Senior citizen, it’s FREE! (Can’t beat that!). For the rest of us it’s a $10 flat admission fee, and one of the best bargains going … of course,  the sights, sounds (and smells) at any fair are priceless!


Some of the perennial favorites are things like Woodsmen’s Field Day, held on Monday and always a big draw. Men and women compete in a number of categories from ax throwing to log rolling.  Also that day is the skillet throw, with women throwing for both distance and accuracy. (Do we somehow have a corner on this market, ladies?!) There are some very serious throwers at this event, which is open to "all women of the world," and divided into age groups ranging from 18-29 to 65 and older. There is no room for mistakes. Competitors are allowed only one toss, and no practice throws. If they cross a foul line (set up as the starting point for measurements), they are disqualified. A perennial champion until recently has been 100-year-old Mid Heath, who has done the toss every year since it began. The last time she tossed, I believe, was in 2009. There's no question that she won her age class, that's for sure. “Go, Farmgirl Heath”!


Pig scrambles, where the young’uns trying to catch the slippery little rascals, are held several times a week and always draw a crowd. The little piglets dart around madly and the kids squeal equally with delight, considering it one of the ultimate  highlights  of their fair experience.  Also on this day is the Goat Show, Horse and Ox Pulls, as well as the Flower Show.


Tuesday is Antique Tractor Day, the Draft Horse, Cow, Llama and Sheep Exhibitions. Throw into the mix the Dessert contests, wreath making demos, a Christmas tree exhibit , a Whoopie Pie Contest, musical concerts galore and some harness racing, and you’ve got a pretty full day!



Midweek through the final weekend brings everything from Pie contests, Rabbit, Poultry and Pony shows, 4-H competitions and about everything else in-between that you could think of to tickle a Farmgirl’s fancy! There is so much going on at all times that it is almost a sensory overload.



The 100 buildings alone, which do not count the vendors, food tents, games and rides, kept us occupied most of the day.  Josh and I delighted the most in the sheep and goats, a few of whom were very snuggly and friendly with us!  (In fact, we loved them so much we had to go back and see them before we left so that we could say goodbye!).



We spent quite a bit of time with the ‘Worm Wiz’ … a man who was selling compost bins for table scraps inside your home. (Here in New Hampshire, we have such an enormous problem with black bears, we have not successfully been able to compost any food scraps out of doors. Barring an electric fence around the compost pile or a very high stone wall, I don’t think it will ever be an option for us here). The Worm Wiz showed us how quickly worms compost garbage.  In fact, as an experiment, he once even put a cotton T-shirt into his worm bin, and the red wigglers ate the WHOLE thing in less than a week  … except for the synthetic thread and washing label!!  These little worms are voracious.


I always love looking at the woodstoves (my one weakness!), the solar displays, and the greenhouse and gardening booths, but the 4-H booths, with their blue-ribbon  garden produce, canned and preserved items, as well as sewing and hand made creations such as quilts, aprons and knitted sweaters were outstanding. It is such a pleasure to know that there are still many kindred spirits to our farmgirl sensibilities abounding in ‘them thar hills’!


The fair features wonderful nightly entertainment in the grandstand, and also live music daily all week long. Entertainment ranges from magicians and country western bands to cloggers and strolling musicians. If you like nintage carriages and wagons, a local couple has the world’s largest collection of them!  Two of their 165-strong vintage collection were magnificent Vardos … which spoke to my “tiny-house” heart! Diversity and balance such as these is what keeps this fair successful year after year.



You could definitely say that this year’s fair was “high in fiber”! I spent more than a little time at the Fiber Arts building … much to the chagrin of my 15 year old son.  But we laughed uproariously as one redneck husband passed us as I was heading for that destination for the third time, and we heard his litany of words to his frustrated wife trail behind him: “I ain’t a-goin’ in no fiber barn”! (My son’s sentiments at that point exactly, although not expressed in just same that way!). The Fiber Arts building had women spinning, weaving, knitting, making rugs and showing their beautifully displayed handicrafts.  I was sorely tempted by absolutely everything, and fortunately exhibited an enormous amount of self-control!


The most interesting thing for me (because I had never seen it before) was a woman hand weaving shawls on a triangular loom. Her creations were amazing, and I stood mesmerized, watching the hand spun fibers come to life as artistically beautiful shawls. I was transfixed for so long I almost forgot to meet my husband and son at the adjacent arena where the horse pulling contests were being held. (I don’t think these building’s juxtaposition was an accident, do you?). 
Finally, after a long day, but all too soon, it was time for us to pack up and head home.  This was not too hard because my one big purchase had only been these AMAZING vegetable peelers … that worked like no others I have ever used! Afterwards I wished I had bought one for everyone I know.  Oh well … there’s always next year, and I am looking forward to it already! 

Do you have a country fair in your neck of the woods that tickles your fancy, friends?  I would love to hear about it and your favorite parts of the fair.  Country fairs are  a wonderful farmgirl tradition that continues to live on, although I have only been to ones here in New England.  What are they like where YOU live?

Until next time,
Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings
Cathi Belcher, The Mountain Farmgirl


By: Ginger Cobl
On: 10/30/2011 06:53:06
We got our first chickens this past spring. So we were really looking forward to our county fair here in North Alabama. I have fond memories from my childhood of wandering through all the agricultural exhibits at the fair, and I was expecting to do the same at our fair this year. Unfortunately that was not the experience we had, there was very little to see besides the fair rides. It's very sad to come face to face with how far we seem to be getting from our roots. I am glad to hear that there are still fairs that are what they were meant to be!
By: Patty D.
On: 10/30/2011 22:51:30
Thank you for sharing! it beings to life the fun and excitement of the county fair. Frying pans, fall color, food and shawls .. does it get any better!!
By: Loreta
On: 10/31/2011 08:44:00
that sounded like a wonderful fair. I would love to go to it. Thanks for your posts and all the beautiful pictures.
By: CJ Armstrong
On: 10/31/2011 09:52:31
Old fashioned country fair . . . what fun that would be! I think it's a great idea! I can think of a lot of ideas for one here . . but I also know it would take a lot of doin'. Something to think about this winter!
By: Linda Layne
On: 10/31/2011 09:53:23
I appreciate your joy in the Country Fair. My husband and I always enjoy the Clackamas County Fair, where we live in Oregon. Tom always submits his jam.... this year he created nine kinds of jams and syrups and won a blue and three red ribbons! That keeps it pretty interesting! This year there was a rabbit agility race, with a course with tiny bridges to cross and things to go under and the children encouraging the bunnies with pats on their fannies. Of course some of the bunnies were not familiar yet with the routine and they would stray off the path and mayhem! I always have to visit the goat barn, having raised goats many years ago. Then there was a dog show that was worth watching. We always give in to the smell of the barbecue. Yum. Oh yes, the Methodist church in Canby offers a slice of homemade pie that is pretty irrisistible! And on our way out, pretty well exhausted, after checking out the quilts and fiber arts display, we go thru the 4-H display. As you said, that is inspirational! One 14 year old girl had made a "weighted" quilt for her Autistic niece.

One thing we treasure about our Clackamas County Fair is that most of the Counties round about us have dropped almost if not all the agricultural and homespun arts and are actually only temporary amusement parks. So we love to support our County Fair!

Thanks for your delightful sharing- Linda
By: Joan
On: 10/31/2011 12:40:58
We (the people) have moved way to far away from what is REAL and I miss it so. You gave it back to me with your wonderful wording and great pic's - think I was there - I do. Well maybe next year it would be worth the trip from far west central United States just to relive some of my past.
Thanks again!!!
By: KimberlyD
On: 10/31/2011 18:01:39
This year I took my dad who is 71 yrs old to most of the little festivals around the county we live in. Starting with the first weekend in June the Craft&Car show in Caro, ending with the Tuscola County Pumpkin festival Michigan(held in Caro) the 2nd weekend in October. My 2 most favorite is the Craft&Car show in Vassar the first weekend in August to the Fall Days in Gagetown which orginally was calld Save the Octagon barn, it has grown so much over the 15 years. My dad and I was the first vendor to sign up for it 15 years ago, they have field full over vendors, and people playing music, demostrating shingle making, rope making, honey, to old school house, and Star of the West flour building, and others,weaving demostrating,(I love that one)tractor show, and of course the octagon barn, it is huge! Also the farm house, its normal shape. It draws lots of people from all around. We alo have the Bean Festival in Fairgrove Michigan on Labor Day weekend it been going for over 60 years. Navy beans are grown around. They give away free bean soup...lol! We have a lot of festivals after crops, Sugar Festival, Potato Festival, Corn Festival, Bean Festival, Sunflower Festival, Fishsandwich Festival, Cheeseburger Festival, Blueberry Festival. Antique Tractor Show along with the county fairs.
By: Karin
On: 11/06/2011 06:52:00
You are so fortunate to live where you do, where people still enjoy simple, fun things. I loved the pictures and as always loved your writing. Thanks for letting us share your visit to the fair.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir