The 90th annual Westfield Fair took place Aug. 18-20, in Westfield MA. The three-day agricultural fair is put on each year in order to provide a place for both youth and adults to show off a wide range of agricultural products and related projects. The fair also features entertainment such as bands, beauty pageants and antique tractor pulls.
“It brings people from all over Western Massachusetts to see what Westfield has to offer,” said Fair Association Treasurer Bill Phelon. “A lot of people travel a circuit of fairs each summer and we are one of the early ones.”
The Westfield Fair is a non-profit organization operating under the supervision of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Fairs Program. The fair was originally founded in 1927 by a small group of local farmers who wanted to compete against each other creating the Young People’s Agricultural Association. Later it was renamed the 4-H and Agricultural Society and again changed in 1953 to be incorporated as the Westfield Fair.
Much like its name the Westfield fair has undergone multiple relocations over the years. A women’s club, armory and high school all once served as served as the fair’s home. In 1956 a local family in nearby Wyben, MA loaned the present 20-acre property to the Fair Association before later deeding it to them.
Fair Association Officer Mark Gary, who is in charge of ground rental, says despite being a smaller event the Westfield fair offers the same type of exhibits and entertainment that larger fairs do which helps to draw several thousands of people to the area.
“We offer a lot but it’s a small following,” Gary said. “On a good year we’ve done 15 to 18 thousand people,” Gary said. “Inclement weather hurt us on the first night this year. We’re hoping eight to 12 thousand people make it out to the fair this weekend.”
According to Fair Association Entry Secretary Susan Phelon there were approximately 127 exhibitors and 1,000 exhibits at this year’s fair. Phelon says exhibitor numbers have been declining in recent years due to people’s changing interests and competition from other activities.
“I can say in the past few years instead of having two exhibit halls, we are now only using one,” Phelon said. “People’s lifestyles have changed and this is not something that they do as much anymore. 4-H used to be very active and popular but it is no longer the case. Kids these days just have so many different activities that they can choose from.”
Thanks to exhibits such as petting zoos and livestock showmanship classes young families are a demographic of people that continue to attend the fair year after year. For example, Kim Falcettin of Belchertown, MA found the petting zoo to be a perfect opportunity to introduce her three-year-old daughter, Aubrey, to some farm animals that she might not ordinarily see. In this case she got some hands-on interaction when she got feed a herd of goats.
“We used to own a farm years ago and I just brought the kids out here to experience the animals,” Falcettin said.
Gary says young adults are drawn to the fair for events such as antique tractor pulls, BMX bike racing, demolition derbies and mud bog competitions.
“More recently what brings the crowds in is the truck pull,” Phelon said. “The mud bog is really popular with young adults. People come with their trucks and ATVs to see if they can get through the mud pit.”
Animal showmanship is one area of the fair that has maintained steady exhibitor numbers over the years thanks to local farmers like Bob Gould of Hadley, MA. Gould says he brought six of his 230 Brown Swiss cattle to the fair to let his grandchildren practice showing and get the animals used to the fair environment.
“We’ve showed ourselves years ago and now the grandchildren are ready to show so we’re here to support them,” Gould said. “We train our cattle at smaller fairs like this so that they act good at the big fairs like The Big E later this year.”
Besides supporting his grandchildren Gould says the fair also provides a good opportunity for the public to become more familiar with the quality of his animals and the breeding program that he uses.
“Coming to this fair gives my animals more value because of the exposure they get,” Gould said. “People can see the nice breeding program that I have going.”
4-H’ers also make up a large portion of exhibitors who showcase their animals at the fair. 4-H club leader Kristie Kelly of Hadley, MA says she brought five club members to the fair so that they could practice fitting and showing their dairy cows.
“This is where they are rewarded for their hard work during the year,” Kelly said. “Other than giving them reminders they do a hundred percent of the work.”
Sheep made up the largest number of registered show animals at this year’s fair. According to Sheep Show Supervisor Peter Poitras there were a total of 61 sheep and 18 exhibitors registered for the junior division, which was made up of kids ages six to 19. The open division, which consisted of both kids and adults, had a total of 200 sheep and 21 exhibitors. Judges awarded a cash prize of $12 to the champion ram and ewe for each breed that was represented. There was no overall supreme champion in either division.
There were a large number of dairy cows registered for the fair this year as well. The junior division consisted of 20 exhibitors and 40 cows while the open division had five exhibitors and 40 registered cows.
“The dairy is definitely thriving and a lot of it might have to do with the ability of farms to lease out their animals,” said Dairy Show Supervisor Bridget Rida. “A lot of kids are not able to have a cow at their home because they don’t have the space and facility for it.”
The number of registered beef cattle were down this year because there was a lack of adult exhibitors. There were a total of five exhibitors and eight beef cows in the junior division.
“There is just not a lot of beef cattle owners in this area so I am always thrilled that the kids are willing to bring out a few animals,” said Beef Show Supervisor Rachel Pomeroy.
Both dairy and beef open class champions were awarded a cash prize of $16 while junior class champions received $13. The overall supreme champions in each division received ribbons.
Ox and horse pulls were also part of the animal showmanship classes. This year there were eight pairs of working oxen registered in the junior division and 16 pairs in the open division. There were a total of 16 teams of horses, with two horses per team. There was also an open showmanship division for goats.
Besides animal showmanship there were plenty of other areas for both junior and adult exhibitors to compete in. Vegetables, fruits, flowers, canned products, baked food, needlework, photography and arts and crafts were just some of the other exhibits where participants were able to earn ribbons and premium cash prizes. Any of the items left over in the exhibit hall were later auctioned off with all the profits going back to Fair Association to help pay for expenses.
For more information on the Westfield Fair visit their website at www.thewestfieldfair.com.