For Immediate Release - July 20, 2012

State Agriculture Officials Celebrate Fair Season

BOSTON – Friday, July 20, 2012 – With summer underway, officials from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources (DAR) are highlighting the 42 agricultural fairs throughout the Commonwealth. Packed with activities for everyone, fairs are a great way to connect families to the food on their table.

“Agricultural fairs are some of the best agri-tourism destinations in the Commonwealth, showcasing our state’s rich and diverse farming traditions in interesting and exciting ways,” said DAR Commissioner Greg Watson. “It is our hope that people of all ages have fun and learn the importance of eating locally grown food.”

Commissioner Watson will visit several agricultural fairs throughout the state this fair season. On Saturday, July 21, the Commissioner will visit the Barnstable County Fair in Falmouth and will assist in presenting $35,000 in annual scholarships to 17 college-bound Cape Cod students pursuing an education related to agriculture. The Commissioner will also tour the fairgrounds to see some of the improvements recently made to the site, including electrical upgrades and the more sophisticated telephone/communication system for such initiatives as an electronic ticketing system.

Funding for these improvements was provided through DAR’s Fair Viability Improvement Program. The Barnstable County Fair was accepted into the program the winter of 2011 and received a $50,000 grant. The fair committee worked with fair industry specialists and business consultants to develop a five-year business plan that provides a blueprint for goals and priorities to keep the fair viable.  

There are now a total of eleven fairs in the Fair Viability Improvement Program, including the Adams Agricultural Fair, Barnstable County Fair, Blandford Fair, Bolton Fair, Cummington Fair, Marshfield Fair, Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, Northampton’s Three County Fair, Spencer Fair, Topsfield Fair, and Westfield Fair. To qualify as an agricultural fair, the fairs must include competitive exhibits of agricultural products.

Fairs are encouraged to create five-year business plans in order to promote growth. Once the plans are established, DAR provides grants in order to fund these projects.

Each fair has its own unique, region-specific personality but relatively standard features include livestock exhibits, fruit and vegetable competitions, flowers and plants, and other exhibits including baking and canning. Several of the fairs have live music, demonstrations, food and children’s activities. These events are filled with fun for the whole family.

"Massachusetts agricultural fairs have a lot to offer patrons in 2012. Cattle, goat, sheep, swine, rabbit, and poultry are on display along with vegetables and flowers which make beautifully colorful displays in exhibit halls,” said Frostine Bean, President of the Massachusetts Agricultural Fairs Association. “Massachusetts offers fair visitors a wide range of what is unique in Massachusetts agriculture. There are forty-two agricultural fairs this year, and we encourage people to visit as many as they can to relish the wealth of information and enjoyment that fairs provide.” 

Fairs are a long-standing tradition in the Commonwealth. Elhanah Watson, who is considered the father of American agricultural fairs, displayed his two Merino sheep under an elm tree in the Pittsfield public square. The town held the first agricultural fair in the United States seven years later in 1814.

As the times have changed, so have the agricultural fairs. Farming is diversifying from the traditional ways of growing to alternative agriculture with many fairs showcasing new farming techniques.  In addition, there have been changes in providing healthier food at the fairs because of a demand for better nutrition – healthier choices. Now in addition to the customary fair cuisine, there are options such as corn on the cob, salad, veggie burgers, fresh blueberries and apples.  Most agricultural fairs focus on serving as much Massachusetts-grown food as possible.

For the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’ brochure on fairs, go to http://www.mass.gov/agr/massgrown/images/fairs-brochure.jpg and for a free hard copy, email ellen.hart@state.ma.edu.

DAR’s mission is to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions – Agricultural Conservation & Technical Assistance, Agricultural Markets, Animal Health, and Crop and Pest Services – DAR strives to support, regulate and enhance the rich diversity of the Commonwealth’s agricultural community to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture’s role in energy conservation and production. For more information, visit DAR’s website at www.mass.gov/agr, and/or follow us at www.twitter.com/MDARCommish and www.twitter.com/MassGrown.

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