For 157 years the Woodstock Fair in Connecticut has been the main attraction in the late summer for residents of northeastern Connecticut and beyond. Attracting upwards of 200,000 people the fair has something for everyone. The fair’s motto for many years has been “Always Labor Day Weekend”. And so it was again this year. The Fair is a production of the Woodstock Agricultural Society whose mission is the promotion of agriculture. The Board of Directors is the governing body of the fair. This group of citizens from the region dedicate their time and talent to make the event a truly family affair.
Agricultural activities are always the main attraction at the fair and the sheep show is one of the largest in New England with all of the major breeds represented. In all of the competitive events particular attention was given to youth activities. The young people who participate deserve a great deal of credit for their hard work. To reinforce the Society’s support of youth activities it awards a number of scholarship each year to local students. One of the attractions of the sheep show is the lead line competition which is arranged by age groups with one individual emerging as Overall Lead Line Champion. This year the contest was dedicated to the memory of the late Marie Sherman, former Superintendent of the Sheep Department and a long-time advocate of the lead line class.
A crowd pleaser is the Giant Pumpkin Contest where dedicated growers compete for the title of having grown the largest giant among giants. The folks who enter this class devote hours to the care and culture of their prize pumpkins. Pumpkin culture is a mix of science, knowhow and perhaps just a bit of magic.
Even though it got off to a cold, wet start 2017 was one of the best growing years in recent memory and the plates of prize vegetables bear testimony to the gardeners’ delight. The Exhibition Hall was filled with fruits, vegetables and flowers from commercial growers and backyard growers. Almost every class had a youth section where kids competed against those in the same age group.
Animal displays and competition constitute a large part of any New England Fair. Judges were surely hard pressed to find reasons to place one over another when judging. Most contestants take the placement of their animals in good spirit while others have problems dealing with anything other than a blue ribbon. All participants learn valuable lessons in how to take defeat gracefully and realize that it all was in good fun.
The Horse Show is a major component of the Fair with four days and three nights of competition. Included in the wide range of events including but not limited to the Driving Division, Showmanship Divisions, Fun and Games Division, Gymkhana Divisions, Trail Division, Hunter Divisions and many more.
Fairgoers with an interest in antique farm machinery and accessories spent a large amount of time exploring the Brunn Barn. Here they found a collection of farm machinery dating back to the mid-1800s, mostly donated or loaned to the fair by local residents. Here too they can examine a large collection of antique farm tractors brought to the fair by enthusiasts many of whom belong the Old Iron Tractor Club, a regional organization dedicated to the preservation of old tractors. Prizes are awarded in a number of different categories.
The Agricultural Exhibit Building had a number of exhibitors displaying the product or service that they contribute to Connecticut agriculture. In this setting the aim is to educate the general public about the many segments that make up agriculture in the state. Here they were able to talk with maple syrup producers, Christmas tree growers, bee keepers and many others. One of the favorites year after year is the cheese sampling table where fairgoers line up to pick up a sample of New England produced cheese.
No fair would be complete without pulling contests. On Friday evening tractors pulled up to four tons. The oxen took over the ring on Saturday with some classes devoted to appearance and how well they matched up based on age. In the pulling contests, the animals in the same weight range pulled against each other until the heaviest teams pulled against each other until one team was left having pulled the heaviest load the furthest. Sunday’s pulling contest was turned over to the ponies who were divided according to height. The pulling teams came in on Monday and were divided into three groups according to weight.
A rather unique feature at the fair over the past several years has been the birthing center where cows are brought from a nearby farm to deliver their calves. This facility provides a once a year opportunity for folks to see the birth of a calf. During the regular hours of the fair an experienced cattle person is on the PA system delivering a running commentary on just what is happening during the entire gestation period including those times when things do not go exactly a planned. All of this sounds pretty straight forward but the logistics of getting a group of cows to calve at fair time requires some careful planning. In addition to the cows calving there are other representative farm animals with their newborns in dedicated pens to allow close examination by fairgoers.
For the staff months of planning quickly came to an end on Monday evening and their thoughts are already focused on Labor Day weekend 2018.