Richard Gast, Cornell Ag Connection
---- — I’ve heard it said, “You can’t call yourself a local until you’ve been to the Franklin County Fair.” It’s the area’s longest running tradition and one of the oldest in New York State.
The 163rd fair is about to get into full swing. This year’s events include concerts, truck and tractor pulls, a demolition derby, harness racing, a stunt drivers thrill show, a bronco and bull riding rodeo and the Franklin County Has Talent competition.
There will be a midway full of rides, games and attractions, and a wide variety of commercial exhibits and concessions. But it’s much more than carnival rides, music, fried dough, French fries and winning brightly colored stuffed animals.
It was originally the Franklin County Agricultural Society because of its agricultural focus. The name is still presented over the front gate on Route 11 on the east side of Malone, and the price of admission still includes access to all agricultural events. These displays, presentations and competitions bring to light the rich and diverse agricultural heritage of Franklin County and provide an opportunity to view working farm animals, livestock competitions, and many of the time-honored traditions.
Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), Franklin County 4-H youth, the livestock animals and the traditional lineup of 4-H activities have been part of the fair for as long as most 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) families can remember. The Franklin County Fair Board has upheld a tradition of support.
The fair is not part of the 4-H program and CCE and the Fair Board are not directly related. Still, both have been cooperating for generations to assure success at one of the largest fairs in the region. It continues to be a place where 4-H members and others can come together to exhibit their skills, craftsmanship, showmanship and animals, and it remains a showcase for 4-H and FFA members exhibiting their prize livestock, as well as their garden, home-economics and crafts projects. On display are homegrown and handmade items of all kinds; fruits and vegetables, artwork, photography and a variety of creative projects, each one sporting a ribbon.
We know participation really makes a difference in the lives of young children. Preparation requires an investment of time and energy that results in our youth developing project-related, decision making, leadership and other life skills. The experience builds character and relationships and teaches children about setting and reaching goals and working together. It’s a time of memories, positive experiences and lasting friendships. At Cornell Cooperative Extension, we believe the fair is a time to celebrate the bounty of local agriculture, the spirit of our communities and the accomplishments of 4-H youth.
Livestock barns become educational areas where fair goers get a glimpse of farm animals, ordinary and unusual, and of what it’s like to take responsibility for raising and feeding animals. They learn about the types and breeds of cattle and about farming life in general.
Judged livestock competitions are educational experiences, too, where visitors learn not just about animals, but about the sports and recreation that are associated with animals and animal husbandry.
I’m proud to have participated and to be participating in workshops and hands-on activities that allow fair goers to create and take home distinctively 4-H projects and souvenirs. I have been truly inspired by the effort, creativity and hard work of our 4-H club members as they readied their club exhibits (posters, crafts, scrapbooks, sewing, gardening and woodworking projects) and then submitted them for judging. I’ve taken great pleasure in watching as they decorated and readied the stalls and pens that are temporarily home to their prized horses, cows, goats and sheep. They won’t all go home with blue ribbons, but as far as I’m concerned, they are all winners.
Get involved. Become one of the many parents, volunteers, community leaders and Extension staff sharing their time and talents with CCE and 4-H youth in your county. You’ll be glad you did.
Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy; agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.