All is Fair by
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Ingham County, Michigan had a fair, but I never went to it.  Maybe my parents didn’t think looking at prize vegetables, embroidery and livestock were that enticing, not even the guaranteed sugary and fried food that fairs provide special dispensation to eat.  Or maybe it wasn’t worthy of discretionary funds, or it didn’t sound like fun to keep track of three little girls in a crowd.  We never had the conversation.  Neither parent grew up on a farm or was part of 4-H; they were aspiring academics.

And yet, somehow, I have experienced cotton candy, apple fritters, kettle corn, corn dogs, Indian tacos and bannock, and have roamed through outdoor venues with crowds of young people milling around midways, carnies, pavilions with exotic chickens, beer fests, dog shows, food trucks, music stages, lumberjack contests, and barrel races.  Not to mention street fairs and parades of all stripes. I just can’t tell you where and when.

However, my father was teaching at Michigan State University, one of the Land Grant colleges (known as “Cow College”, “Moo U”, and then “the Udder University”—or so the joke goes), with a degree in agricultural economics, so he might have had some curiosity about the fair.  Of course his interest was in international development, but still.

My mother’s father had been raised on a farm in Colorado, and he ran away at an early age from an abusive home life.  Although he lovingly tended his flower garden, he made a point of never growing any food crop, lived in cities and and pursued his own academic career instead.  There was no nostalgia for farm life imparted to his children.

And yet, somehow, I have experienced cotton candy, apple fritters, kettle corn, corn dogs, Indian tacos and bannock, and have roamed through outdoor venues with crowds of young people milling around midways, carnies, pavilions with exotic chickens, beer fests, dog shows, food trucks, music stages, lumberjack contests, and barrel races.  Not to mention street fairs and parades of all stripes. I just can’t tell you where and when.

Fairs celebrate food in many ways.  Sally had contractor client who grew up in rural Oregon; he would go to the 4-H shows each year and pick out a nice steer with a name, raised by a doting child, and buy it.  And have it slaughtered of course.  He knew it had been well taken care of, and that was how he got his meat. Something to be said for that—better than a feed lot.

When we moved in 2004 to Summerland, a rural (but not remote) community of around 11,000 people in BC’s Okanagan Valley, we found ourselves pleasantly back in time, in a town with a real main street.  A restored stretch of railroad track runs a vintage tourist steam train that carries you along a valley with apple and peach trees, sheep and llamas and horses.  It rounds the curve of the hill to pass by the small industrial area and on through vineyards to the trestle behind the agricultural research station.  The train toots its whistle, and people wave as you pass.  It’s like a Playskool setup—here’s the forest, here’s the river, here’s the mountain, there’s the lake, here’s the meadow, here’s the farm, here’s the horse, here’s Farmer John.

The Summerland Fall Fair started in 1909, and evolved from being the “Apple Fair” (but not very far), and has been held most years since then.  We had to check it out.  It was held in the local Curling Club building (of course there is one), and it took very little time to make the rounds of the prize zucchini, pumpkin, pies, preserves, needlework and handicrafts.  There was a ride for the kids in some cylindrical cars pulled by an ATV in the parking lot.  No livestock I could see.  Crowds were thin, but we did make new friends–who turned out to be from Chicago. Maybe the tradition was fading, as apples have given way to cherries, which have given way to grapes, and there are fewer farmers and more commuters in the town.

And yet, there is new life, as the fair is being revived this year after COVID , with fresh energy, a photography contest, and community-minded younger organic farmers making an effort.  And after all, isn’t celebrating the community really the heart of the fair?

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Khati , you’ve given us all the sights and sounds and tastes, and thanx for taking this city girl from the Big Apple to the real deal at the Apple Fair!

  2. Yep!
    There’s a wonderful Ag Fair in Connecticut every summer – but not since Covid alas.
    I remember walking around while nibbling a cob of corn drowning in butter – yum!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks for the lovely story. Summerland sounds like the perfect balance of small ( and small town) and yet with a truly evocative annual (more or less) fair. I might even enjoy it. And I do love apples!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      The fair is definitely not an experience in excess 🙂 The ag research station specializes in “pomology” (pit fruit), and they have developed some spectacular apple varieties over the years—“ambrosia” is a local favourite. The local fruit stands are great. Apples keep well, so we enjoy them all year long. Come on down (up).

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    I have many friends and cousins who went to “Moo U”. We teased them about that, but one of my best friends was in the five year vet program and went on to become one of the first board-certified animal behavioralists. MSU is a good school, but I still never went to the big State Fair in Detroit.

    Your description of the Apple Fair is delightful, Khati – just what a fair should be. I love the photo of the kids in the little locomotive – sweet! And yes, community should be at the heart of all these events.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I thought I might count on our Michiganders to weigh in. MSU was, and is, an enormous presence in the state, in its way. Has a medical school too now. We used to get ice cream from the university dairy cows and hike through the forestry pinetum and arboretum. The Big Ten football games were huge, literally, and there were as many students as inhabitants of East Lansing.

  5. Marian says:

    This was delightful, Khati, and I loved the memories of apples. Remember really good Macintoshes? Have you ever gone to Apple Hill in Northern California? It’s really commercial and crowded (and least pre-COVID), but I can almost smell the cinnamon in the pies.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I haven’t gone to Apple Hill, but the pies do sound tempting! I did go to the Gilroy Garlic Festival years ago, which was amazing (garlic perfume?), but it was so popular that we got into the biggest traffic jam ever coming home.

  6. Suzy says:

    I love this story, Khati, both the look into your parents’ ag backgrounds (and yet they never took you to a fair), and your recent experiences with the Summerland Fair. It sounds delightful, and glad to hear that the young people are bringing fresh energy to it. Great pictures too, I especially like the kids in the cylindrical cars being pulled by an ATV. You were more successful than I was in getting multiple photos to line up neatly, we’ll have to discuss your technique.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, that funky little kids’ ride is adorable! Those picture ms were from the web page, but are the real deal. I have no idea how they lined up either!!! I have struggled to position pictures in Retrospect. I think I may have pushed the “add media” button, then browsed and added them all to the Retrospect picture section one after the other—then when I selected one to add in, they all populated together. Give it a try?

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I loved your description of Summerland and its fair, It made me picture a simpler time and did not seem to be the junk-filled experience I associate with state fairs. Celebrating a community makes sense. I would go to something like that if it is ever safe to do so again.

  8. Wonderfully told, Khati. And your last line absolutely nails it. It is so true. A fair is its own emoji.

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