As I write this post, we’re smack in the middle of Connecticut’s agricultural fair season, which runs from mid-July to mid-October.
I didn’t grow up going to fairs regularly, though I do have a few hazy memories of attending the Danbury Fair as a small child. Later, I think I may have assumed that all Connecticut fairs went the way of that one, which was supplanted by an eponymous shopping mall.
But then, about ten years ago, I happened to go to the Woodstock Fair, and I realized that (Danbury aside) this all-American tradition had never left Connecticut, and in fact was thriving all across the state.
If you’ve never been to a local agricultural fair – or if you haven’t been since you were very young – here’s why you should go to a fair this season.
1) Because any time you start the day parked in a field, it’s sure to be an adventure.
2) Because it’s a part of Connecticut history. Many of Connecticut’s agricultural fairs have roots extending back to the 19th or early 20th centuries, and if you squint and ignore the modern-day vehicles and the people holding cell phones, they probably didn’t look all that different from the fairs we have today. (The Brooklyn Fair, where I took these photos, is known as the oldest continually operating agricultural fair in the country.)
3) Because fair food. Ironically, at an attraction built around the industry that brings us fruit, vegetables, meat, and eggs, there’s nothing whole or unprocessed about the food for sale at a fair. But most fairgrounds are pretty large, so all the walking you do will burn off that fried dough, giant pretzel, apple fritter, or mahoosive cup of lemonade. At least I like to think so.
4) Because animals. If you have a child, or if you, like me, tend to turn into a child when you enter a large room filled with fluffy bunnies, you won’t be able to resist the animal barns at an ag fair. Here, you can get a look at prize-winning chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, cows, and alpacas. Some of these are overwhelmingly cute (just-hatched baby chicks!) while others are surprisingly imposing (if you don’t spend a ton of time around cows, they truly are enormous up close.)
5) Because you can ride the Ferris wheel (or just look at it.) To be honest, you couldn’t get me on any of these rides these days; I think I had my fill of them as a child, and now they strike me as simultaneously dinky and terrifying. But it’s still amusing to step into the old-timey world of carnies and cotton candy, to watch the glitzy rides go round, and to see kids trying to win stuffed pigs three times their own size.
6) Because it celebrates a different side of Connecticut. Of course, if you live in a rural area or work in agriculture, livestock and tractors are mundane. But given that Connecticut ranks 4th in the nation for population density and almost 90% of its residents live in urban areas, these things not everyday sights for most of us. And a fair is an opportunity to connect, or reconnect, with what the rest of the state is doing.
7) Because you’ll get to see some whacky sights. You might not think you want to see an exhibit of antique farm equipment, or a pie that won a prize, or a 1,500 lb pumpkin. But trust me, you will.
8) Because it’s an escape, but it’s also real life. Of course, fairs are entertaining; no one would go if they weren’t fun! But they’re not all twangy guitars and deep-fried treats and swirling neon lights. Some of what you see at a fair is not pretty. Some of the stuff for sale is tacky and offensive. Sometimes you step in manure. Sometimes you wonder if it’s wrong to gawk at animals in cages. (Thankfully, there’s less of a moral dilemma about the giant pumpkins.) But some of that realness is sweet, too, like seeing how much the kids working with those animals seem to care for them, or how much effort people put into baking the perfect cake or crafting the most intricate birdhouse.
9) Because of the events and performances. It’s not just the music, though fairs can attract an impressive lineup of performers. It’s not just the demolition derby or the skillet toss. It’s not just the tractor pulls, ox pulls, and all kinds of other pulls you didn’t know existed. It’s the fact that while you might be able to see some of these elsewhere, a country fair is the only time you’ll ever catch them all in one place.
10) Because it perfectly encapsulates that nostalgia-inducing time when summer turns to fall. Depending on the weather, this time of year in Connecticut can feel like a strange limbo season, with sweltering summer heat followed by brisk fall chills. One of the few annual happenings that embraces this ambiguous moment in the calendar is the fair. It can feel like a raucous summer party, a cozy autumnal outing, or both at once.
The dates, times, and locations of 2019 Connecticut Agricultural Fairs are listed at CTAgFairs.org.