Fair enough? No crowds, but exhibitors get their moment in the sun at Three County Fair 

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  • Owen Laurenzo, 11, of Belchertown, drives his team of year-old roan Milking Shorthorns, Oak and Birch, through a narrow turn in the cart class of the Youth Oxen Show at the Three County Fair on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Saturday's event was Laurenzo's first time to show. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sam Jenkins, 12, of Westhampton yokes his team of five-month-old Holsteins, Ben and Jerry, for the Youth Oxen Show at the Three County Fair on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Not far from the empty grandstands of the Three County Fair, Youth Oxen Show judge Fran Mason of Worthington offers feedback to two of the six competitors in the showmanship class, Sam Jenkins, left, 12, of Westhampton, and Keegan Tabor, 14, of Vermont on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. The 203rd Three County Fair was closed to the public. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Owen Laurenzo, 11, of Belchertown talks about training with his team of year-old roan Milking Shorthorns, Birch and Oak, just before his first competition in the Youth Oxen Show at the Three County Fair on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sam Jenkins, 12, of Westhampton drives his team of five-month-old Holsteins, Ben and Jerry, through the cart class of the Youth Oxen Show as seen through an empty dairy barn at the Three County Fair on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. The 203rd fair was closed to the public.

  • Anna Wood judges the baking and canning portion of the entries at the Three County Fair Friday, September 4, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jim Gambaro and John Green discuss one of the photo entries while judging at the Three County Fair Friday, September 4, 2020. "We had good quality but less volume," said Gambaro when asked about this year in comparison to others. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Youth Oxen Show judge Fran Mason, right, of Worthington, watches Owen Laurenzo, 11, of Belchertown bring his team of year-old roan milking Shorthorns, Oak, left, and Birch, into the ring for the showmanship class at the Three County Fair on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Youth Oxen Show judge Fran Mason, center, of Worthington, takes notes on competitors Keegan Tabor, left, 14, of Vermont and Owen Laurenzo, 11, of Belchertown and their teams during the showmanship class at the Three County Fair on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Members of Owen Laurenzo's family, including his mother, Kerri Laurenzo, left, of Belchertown, and grandparents Cathy and Jim Gibney of Fall River, watch him compete for the first time in the Youth Oxen Show at the Three County Fair on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Laurenzo and his team are second from left in the ring. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Keegan Tabor, 14, of Randolph, Vermont, relaxes with Rooster, one half of his team of 15-month old Holsteins, Colt and Rooster, before the Youth Oxen Show at the Three County Fair on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Natalia Campion, 7, of Athol, drives her team of two-month-old Holsteins, Willie and Nillie, into the Hunter Ring of the Three County Fair for the cart class of the Youth Oxen Show on Saturday. The 203rd fair was closed to the public. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bailey Howard, 12, and her sister, Autumn Turnbull, 4, of Feeding Hills, groom Howard’s 4-year-old steer Loki at the Three County Fair on Saturday. Howard placed first in the showmanship class of the Youth Oxen Show with her Belgian Blue/Shorthorn team of Loki and Taco. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/6/2020 5:40:03 PM

NORTHAMPTON — During a normal Labor Day weekend, the Three County Fairgrounds would be bustling with families watching school bus demolition derbies, kids getting on amusement rides and vendors selling goods — 10,000 people in all, according to one fair official.

But even though the grounds at this weekend’s 203rd consecutive Three County Fair were far more desolate than usual as the popular event was closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was still open for exhibitors — hearkening back to the fair’s agricultural roots and the very first iteration of the event over 200 years ago, when it took place on Main Street downtown.

“I have a feeling that even that one 202 years ago was probably busier than this one,” remarked James Przypek, general manager of the fair.

Today, Pryzpek said the mission of the Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden County Agricultural Society is still the same as it was all of those years ago: “To promote agriculture and other related things, like education.” So it’s unsurprising that even without the public, exhibitors at this year’s event — which was nicknamed the “Three County Fair 2.0” — still showed off their livestock and shared information about the art of cultivation.

The weekend’s events started Friday with the judging of various arts and crafts competitions, including photography, needlework, crochet and baking, according to Pryzpek. Those winners, he said, were planned to be announced over the fair’s social media accounts.

On Saturday, six young people participated in a “youth oxen show,” according to Pryzpek. The events scheduled for Sunday were the youth dairy competition, where cows would be judged, Pryzpek said. The youth rabbit and youth sheep competitions were planned for Monday. The Boer Goat and Adult Dairy competitions were canceled following an order from Gov. Charlie Baker that limited outdoor gatherings to no more than 50 people, according to a press release from the fair.

At around 10 a.m. Saturday, the six young teamsters began preparing their pairs of cattle for the day’s show. Most of the kids’ animals were steers, which are young and neutered male cattle that, according to the event’s judge, Fran Mason of Worthington, can weigh between 1,400 and 2,600 pounds, depending on breed and nutrition. At a certain age, steer grow to oxen, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Mason said the youngsters would be judged in three different classes. The first, he said, was the “showmanship” class, in which he said he’d judge how clean and up to par the animals are, as well as how well they respond to commands. Next, the cattle pull a cart through an obstacle course, which is the second class. Finally, the animals pull a log and attempt to balance it on a wooden arch in the middle of the course.

Owen Laurenzo, 11, of Belchertown, brought his two animals, Oak and Birch, to participate in this year’s event. He said he got his pair of cattle last September, and that this was the first time they had ever participated in a show. His previous pair of cattle, Rex and Cody — which he named after two clone troopers from “Star Wars” — had gotten too big for him, so they were sold. He’s been working with Oak and Birch at his house every day to train for Saturday’s event.

“I like spending time with the animals,” Owen said. “It’s not a common sport, so when you walk up to someone and tell them you do this, they’re so amazed.”

Owen said he’s appreciative of the opportunity to show off his livestock this year.

“I thank the people who opened this because that gives me a chance to work with them,” he said. “And for them to get out of the house and meet new cows.”

Owen said his dad, Chris, initially brought up the idea to start this hobby. Chris Laurenzo said “it’s impressive to watch” his son get better at working with the animals.

“It’s very very very much appreciated,” Laurenzo said of the fair being open this year to exhibitors. “Like Owen had mentioned, we have had no place to go. So this does give us one time to get the kids out, and get the cows out.”

For the first event, six young people and their animals — each pair connected together by a wooden yoke — stood silently at the corner of a large outdoor arena. The youths commanded their cattle to move halfway around the arena until they came to a stop in the center, where Mason inspected each animal. For the second class, teamsters hooked their animals up to a cart that they pulled through a difficult obstacle course.

Sam Jenkins, 12, of Westhampton, and his 5-month-old cattle, Ben and Jerry, took home the white third place ribbon in the “showmanship” class. He said he’s the seventh generation of his family to show oxen; he started showing cattle when he was 5 or 6.

“Not a lot of people do it,” Sam said. “There’s an endless possibility of things you can teach them to do.”

The fair is recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the oldest ongoing fair in continuous operation in the country, according to Przypek, a title it can continue to claim even though the public was not allowed in this year. He said the hope is that the fair can welcome the public back in 2021.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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