Each year, in the days and weeks leading up to Labor Day weekend, the town of Woodstock, CT springs to life in preparation for the annual Woodstock Agricultural Fair. The 2014 fair opened on Friday, Aug. 29 and closed on the evening of Monday, Sept. 1. The estimated attendance was 150,000.
The Woodstock Agricultural Fair is presented by the Woodstock Agricultural Society. It is a New England Country Fair in every sense of the word, featuring all levels of poultry and livestock competition, an excellent horse show, competition among both hobby and commercial fruit and vegetable growers and a host of other competitions.
Today, most fairs feature a museum that acts as a repository for the local agricultural heritage. The Woodstock Fair has the Brunn Barn, which contains the fair’s Agricultural Museum. The structure was at one time owned by a well-to-do New York family by the name of Brunn, who had a summer residence in Woodstock. In the early 2000s the Fair Association, recognizing the need to begin preserving our heritage, began negotiations with the then-owner — the Town of Woodstock. The barn, relocated and restored, opened just in time for the 2005 fair. Starting with a very small collection, the committee sent out a call to the community for suitable donations and the response was excellent. It is a must-see when visiting the Woodstock Agricultural Fair.
The fair has one of the largest sheep shows in southern New England, with almost 1,000 head being exhibited this year. Every effort is made to ensure that youngsters are encouraged, trained and supported in all aspects of sheep husbandry, including show ring activities. In the very large fitting and showing classes, all contestants were recognized for their exceptional work.
One of the largest crowds is always found at the birthing center, where dairy cows that are very close to calving are bought into very large pens and allowed to calve in front of the spectators — an event that most in the audience have never observed. As one might expect, coordinating this event requires considerable cooperation on the part of participating dairy farmers, who must have enough cows in heat 283 days prior the opening of the following year’s fair.
What started out several years ago as the poultry exhibit has evolved over time into an expanded display, featuring not only poultry, but also guinea pigs and rabbits. Here again, there are classes for the youngsters as well as those for adults.
The Agricultural Exhibit Building contained a variety of displays providing local growers and supporters the opportunity to show what they do in a non-competitive setting. Maple sugar producers were represented by Avis and Richard Norman who have had a display at the fair for many years.
Another long-standing favorite is the booth that supports the dairy industry. June Suleski has manned this display for 25 years and never seems to tire of handing out samples of cheese, and containers of cream which fairgoers are invited to shake until they are holding a small pat of butter.
Over the years, a display that never fails to attract a crowd is one featuring an incubator with newly hatched baby chicks. The sight of a youngster holding a new chick never fails to bring a smile to those around the display. There were also forestry exhibits, Christmas tree growers, a vegetable and fruit display by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, plus many others.
Both dairy and beef cattle were exhibited and shown throughout the four days of the fair, with all of the major dairy and beef breeds represented. The youth classes for fitting and showmanship were divided by age in order that kids of each designated age group were competing against their peers and not against older, more experienced showmen.
The success of any fair depends on the hard work and dedication of the small army of volunteers who labor behind the scenes to ensure that all goes well. They do it out of love, for what this fair means to them — following in the footsteps of their predecessors and establishing the groundwork for those who will follow.