CE-MR-3-Farm Fest3by Pat Malin
VERONA, NY — Bundled up in winter jackets and caps, or unexpectedly shivering in t-shirts, some kids stomping around delightedly in their precocious mud boots, they came — as expected — to the Oneida County Farm Fest 2013 on June 7.
The event is held rain or shine, and once again, it rained at Brabant Farms. But the gray skies, cool temperatures, drizzle and mud didn’t deter 2,000 folks, big and small, from attending the free event.
Farm Fest allows the public to take a close look inside a working Oneida County dairy farm. The event offers fun and educational activities, including tours of the farm, agriculture-related displays, exhibits and demonstrations, pony rides, a hay maze and children’s games.
As some visitors sat under the tent enjoying a chicken barbeque and others grabbed a free container of Chobani yogurt and enjoyed free strawberry sundaes courtesy of Candella’s farm, Ron Bunce, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County, a co-sponsor of the event, walked around the grounds and smiled at the turnout.
“Last year it poured, so this year isn’t bad,” said Bunce. He explained that the Farm Fest committee had tinkered with the schedule previously, but have settled for a weekday after Memorial Day. Nevertheless, the unpredictable spring weather in Central New York will always have the upper hand.
“We tried to do it on a Wednesday or a Thursday so we could get the school kids, and then have the public come to the farm on a Saturday, but that makes it more challenging for the farmers,” he said. “They were tied up for two days. We decided to have it on one day. Next year, Memorial Day is the last Friday of the month, but May is too early to have it.”
You couldn’t have a party without guests, so they began trickling in slowly when the gates opened at 4:30. Farm Fest also served as an interactive classroom for nearly 500 Oneida County elementary school students earlier in the day. However, the city kids from the Utica School District happened to have a half-day of school and couldn’t attend Farm Fest this year.
One of the farm’s owners, Paul van Lieshout, explained how the farm spends many hours of preparation for the event, and he worried about the weather and the turnout.
“Yesterday, we had a downpour,” he said as he escorted guests through the elevated, glass-enclosed dairy parlor. “The committee puts a lot of time in (planning) to try and showcase agriculture. The school kids came in at 9:30, so we started milking at 2:30 this morning instead of 4. Then we started again at 4:30; otherwise, there would be a large block of time where they couldn’t see any milking.”
Rainy weather during Farm Fest doesn’t have to be viewed as negative. “This is a good message to send the kids that farmers will be here regardless of the rain or hail,” Bunce concluded.
Terry Sciortino, whose family operates Sciortino Farm in Marcy, was a Fest volunteer who greeted the hayride participants. Her husband, Vito, and son, Joshua, volunteered to drive the wagons, while another farmer, Dave Schieferstine, narrated the tour.
The Oneida County Farm Fest committee decided that it’s best for each farm to host the event two consecutive years. In its initial year, the farm gets to work out any kinks and usually has smooth sailing the second year.
Mike Tuttle of Lee Center brought his young son, Brandon, to his first Farm Fest early in the evening and found the parking lots filled. “I was surprised I had to park in the back behind the barn,” he said.
Even though Tuttle grew up on a farm in Boonville, it was a new experience for Brandon. The four-year-old at first feared the hefty cows in the barn. After playing hide-and-seek behind the hay bales, he finally mustered up some courage. He took a handful of hay and tossed it at the startled bovines.
“This is a clean operation,” Tuttle observed of the Brabant Farm, which has been a Dairy of Distinction for 25 years.
Similarly, Scott Lituck, who lives a stone’s throw from Brabant Farm and has farming in his blood, brought his two children, Andrew, 8, and Katelyn, 11, to see a real farm in action. “We had planned on coming (regardless of weather),” he said.
“My grandparents’ farm is just over there. It’s an apple orchard. I spent a lot of time on the farm when I was young, helping grandpa trim the trees and spray them, and harvest the apples. But grandpa gave up dairy farming in the early 1960s and then drove a milk truck.”
Lituck, like Tuttle, works in an office, so they feel it is important to expose their children to the traditions of farming. “I wish we could keep the farm in the family,” Lituck said. “It belonged to my mom’s parents. If I was fortunate enough, I’d expand the apple farm. I only live a few miles away.”
Many of the young visitors at Farm Fest ran, not walked, when they saw a  modest display of antique tractors and farm equipment outside the calf barn. But their eyes grew wide when they spied the mini-tractors. An organization in Oriskany Falls called Mohawk Valley Power of the Past has been hauling the antiques and the toy tractors to the Farm Fest for the last 10 years.
The Oneida County Farm Fest received the 2010 New York Agricultural Society’s Agricultural Education Award based on the event’s ability to share valuable information on local agriculture to diverse segments of the community.
The event is co-sponsored by Oneida County farmers, Oneida County Farm Bureau, Oneida County Dairy Promotion and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County.