by Laura Rodley
Organizers of the 40th Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair that occurs on Memorial Day weekend in Cummington, MA are recognizing the anniversary in a unique way. Co-chairs Lisa Bertoldi of Williamsburg, Shawn Thayer, who has attended every fair since its inception, and Aaron Loux, both of Cummington, are currently in the final stages of formalizing a scholarship in the amount of $500 that will go towards a young student studying sheep culture and production related studies at the college level. Application procedures are being fine-tuned.
“We’re not gentrified, not fancy, very much to its roots. We’re still very ‘sheepy’,” said Bertoldi, “offering sheep shows, two full days of dog trials featuring border collies, a myriad of fiber arts and vendors selling anything related to fiber from yarn to spinning wheels, as well as fleece, woolcraft and photography exhibits judged on Saturday and spinning contests.”
The fair has retained, “All the wonderful things that we do that have been lost at other fairs.”
These include a potluck supper at the close of the Saturday at 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. attended by shearers, farmers, exhibitors, vendors and fiber people and whoever would like to join in. “It’s a potluck, then it’s a business meeting, then it’s an ice cream social. In classic farmer approach, not a minute is wasted,” said Bertoldi, co-chair since June.
During the day, the 4-H food booth sells their landmark lamb bits.
4-H members from three counties, Hampshire, Berkshire and Hampden, are represented. “They work very hard. They are the lynchpin of our fair.” The fair donates a percentage of their $10 per car admission fee proceeds towards the 4-H groups.
“We believe strongly in promoting the next generation of farmers.” said Bertoldi. Youth get a chance to show their sheep, gain marketing experience and win valuable prizes. Others count on the fair for a significant portion of their income. All Massachusetts sheep and wool producers are invited to participate.
She also honors those who have overseen the fair in previous years, mainly Launie York of Shelburne who stepped down as chairperson recently and who had made the task appear so easy. “What she did we split into three pieces,” said Bertoldi.
What the fair offers has been consistent, and ahead of its time. “We have been doing local agriculture since 1974, farm-to-table since 1974, locally produced garments since 1974, do-it-yourself since 1974. It’s wonderful that there’s been this national push in this current generation for this concept. Local people have been doing that for a long while. It’s important to recognize that,” said Bertoldi, speaking from her vantage point as owner of her own business, Weft, weaving high end kitchen towels out of flax and cotton.
“The high point of farming has not been reached,” she adds, and fair organizers want to assist shepherds of all generations achieve that, as well as have a weekend of fun. Everyone is invited. Located on Fairgrounds Road, gates are open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information, access www.masheepwool.org