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Editorial: Three County Fair a yearly salute to farm values

Steve Emerson of Cummington judges the youth vegetables plates at the Three County Fair.


Steve Emerson of Cummington judges the youth vegetables plates at the Three County Fair. CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

This week, the Gazette published a long story chronicling the ups and downs of running a family farm in 2013. It’s not an easy life. The hours are long, the work back-breaking, variables out of any farmer’s control can spell ruin and it is never clear the next generation will carry on their parents’ dream.

But it’s a rewarding life, as the farmers featured in Rebecca Everett’s story made clear. And despite the travails, the family farm continues to serve a vital role in our economy.

Yes, many farms are disappearing, but many are still going strong, with good reason: There is no more essential service than growing the food we eat.

And there is no better showcase for farming, particularly within the family farm context, than the Three County Fair, now in its 196th year and billed as the country’s oldest agricultural fair.

The iconic barns just off the fairgrounds’ Bridge Street entrances are quintessential New England, as are the people who visit over the annual fair’s four-day run. It continues through Monday.

In these barns, fair-goers can visit stalls holding cows, horses, sheep and, new this year, goats. In the barns, rich with the smell of hay, visitors can chat with young people who tend the animals. Many of them are farm kids, born and raised. Many are part of 4-H programs that, among other goals, aim to promote and preserve the farming way of life.

The people who show their animals and other fruits of their labor are, for the most part, working farmers. So while you may be treated to a show, what they do is not for show — these people are the real deal, hardworking farmers who make their living off the land by providing sustenance to the community.

The presence of the farmers and the farm kids at the fair is a long-standing and important tradition. County fairs like Northampton’s may well be the place most people are exposed to farm life.

Judging from the level of participation in the agricultural side of the fair, interest in farming remains strong. This year there are more entries, more animals, and more people showing them. In the dairy category, for example, there are so many entries that some cows had to be moved to the goat barn.

Shows and exhibits at the Three County Fair nurture an appreciation for farms, farmers and their way of life. Given the challenges facing independent, family-run farms, they need all the allies and advocates they can get.

Farmers interviewed for the Gazette story this week said successful farms change and adapt, like the Hatfield farm that was once a tobacco and onion farm, and then a sheep farm, and is now a dairy farm.

While these farmers make no bones about how hard they work, they rattle off the rewards of what they do and speak of the benefits to family life. Living on a farm teaches children fundamental lessons about hard work, cooperation, responsibility, stewardship of the land and life and death.

It’s getting on fall harvest time in these parts. There’s a lot to celebrate, a lot of hard work to feel good about. Visitors to the Three County Fair should make it a point to stop by the agriculture barns, ask questions and show support for a way of life that must endure.

Legacy Comments3

Now it's every Labor Day weekend, it's advertised all around town. And the cost is ridiculous. Can you imagine a family of 4? $40 admission, 2 kids = $44. That does not include parking, food, the demolition derby or games. Just to walk in the door it's $84 bucks! I would rather spend that money at the Big E where there is something for everybody because I can't afford to do both.

It would be good to know when and where the fair is. Is it over?

This is absolutely the strength of the fair. It's certainly not the $10 admission plus $22 ride wrist band that the kids each pay for a few hours of fun. Rein in the costs, please!

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