Late summer and early fall is the season for visiting fairs. State fairs, county fairs, and festivals highlighting specific ingredients or events come at the time when the growing season is ending and the harvest is abundant in most parts of the United States. For our farming ancestors, this was a time to celebrate, take a short break from the hard work of the year, and get together with friends, family, and community members. Modern fairs still offer a chance to connect with agricultural traditions mixed in with amusements and lots of food.
Last week I visited the Minnesota State Fair, one of the biggest in the state. Crowds of people visit the fair daily to see the giant pumpkins, go upside down on rides, listen to music, and eat fair food. While it is fun to see the prizewinning farm animals and listen to music, the food may be what everyone talks about most. The focus is on anything deep-fried and on a stick, but there is also corn on the cob, apple pie, and lots of ice cream.
In the Midwest, state fairs are giant celebrations of excess–the biggest, brightest, craziest. There are also many smaller fairs, some focusing on art and handmade crafts, others celebrating the harvest of garlic, cranberries or other crops. Each fair happens yearly and becomes part of the ritual of the changing seasons.
One of my favorite fairs is in Maine, where there is no state fair but many other small fairs across the state. The Common Ground Fair celebrates the home grown, handmade, rural, organic, and small farm. There are agricultural and handcraft demonstrations, heirloom vegetable displays, and beautiful handcrafted items. Most of the food served must be organic and grown or produced in the state.
Although the fair is much the same every year, it is one of those events that we return to, as it marks the arrival of another autumn. We think of years past, find the annual jar of honey, skein of handspun wool, or deep fried candy bar. The fair celebrates abundance, community, and local color. Whether you make it a yearly tradition or not, this is the season for visiting fairs.