Oh, To Go To A Maine Fair
by Esther J. Perne
Maine agricultural fairs start up in June and extend practically nonstop into October. They date back to 1820; they number in the couple of dozen; and they are back on the circuit this year.
Currently 26 licensed agricultural fairs are scheduled throughout the summer, throughout the state, and of all the returning summer events they provide the best combination of fun, education, and entertainment, while each maintains a distinctive setting, schedule and sense of community.
Through the gate to a country fair lies a wonderful and unique world that sparks excitement, warm memories, the youth in everyone's heart, and adventure both enjoyable and enlightening among the vast and varied exhibits and entertainments.
Initially just for cattle judging, agricultural displays soon expanded to include many types of farm animals, harness racing, pulling competitions and exhibits of gardening and homemaking. Food and entertainment, especially music and dancing, became mainstays of a fair, which once was often the last community social outing before winter.
Midways at fairs originated with the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, which was the first world's fair with a distinctly separate amusement area. It is also where the Ferris wheel originated, built for the midway's centerpiece.
Most of Maine's fairs today include midways where the centerpiece ride is often the merry-go-round. While other rides require a sense of adventure, of agility, of smallness for kiddee rides, the carousel's appeal is agelessness, and agelessness is the key to a visit to a fair.
Not only does a fair bring out the memories of visits to ancestral family farms among many fairgoers but there are opportunities at many fairgrounds to review the past in permanent museums and historic buildings on display.
What are the takeaways of a Maine fair? Education is one of the most unsung benefits for visitors. From judging areas to petting zoos to sheep dog demonstrations to chainsaw woodcarving there is a continuous schedule of spectator events.
The openness of fairs is another great take-away. Access to livestock barns, homemaker exhibits and all manner of demonstrations and competitions are as accessible and as close as many attendees ever get to agriculture and farming.
And food!! From healthy and wholesome to heavily breaded and deep fried, fair food is no time to diet. Candied apples, cotton candy, doughboys and delicious home-cooked menus at church and Grange booths, barbecues hosted by fire departments and other organizations, and ice cream fresh from the cart all add up to: Do go there hungry!
Take the children hungry, too. Fair food is kids' heaven as they frolic among the exhibits, marvel at the livestock, join in the activities how about the pig scramble? and long to be winners at the midway games or in the frequent bike giveaways.
Although fairs convene all summer, September has the most fairs in Maine, and October offers the latest and largest Fryeburg, the time to start is now. Some fairs are a short drive in central Maine and some are hours away (but they do offer camping).
Fairs offer a range of entry fees and special days seniors, woodsmen, school field trip, etc. It is advisable to check in advance about hours and admissions and about pandemic precautions that are in place at individual fairs.
But in terms of food, rides and the best of a region's agricultural output every fair is a fair bet.
Visit www.mainefairs.org for a listing of Maine agricultural fairs and links to each fair's website.