The Pfundstein Report: The renewed relevancy of agricultural fairs
It’s fair time again in New Hampshire. Actually, late July kicked off the season with the North Haverhill, Stratham and Cheshire fairs. We backyard farmers take this time of the year seriously. It’s our chance to rub shovels with the real guys and women for a few days. Farm fairs are great institutions. They appear to have been started both to facilitate commercial enterprise and provide much-needed entertainment. The Lancaster Fair has been operating for 138 continuous years. The original predecessor of the Hopkinton State Fair was initiated by the Contoocook Board of Trade. New Hampshire fairs celebrate agriculture’s important role in our history, tradition, commerce and entertainment. However, the fairs will take on a renewed relevancy as our lifestyles evolve in an economy no longer fueled by inexpensive energy. But first, what is a backyard farmer? Someone like me who loves his pickup truck and playing with the soil. The backyard farmer does not want to sit in a cold barn all night with a sick animal. He or she actually gets to leave on vacation. Any equipment used by a backyard farmer is probably a toy. Real farmers know the difference between pesticide and herbicide, but more importantly, when not to use both. A backyard farmer too often unintentionally uses fertilizer as a plant assassin. In a column that appeared five years ago, I warned about those lifestyle farmers wearing brightly colored hand-painted rubber boots suggesting they were probably from Connecticut. This spring I read an article or two about “upper-end” suburbanites planting vegetables on their front lawns. These previously expertly coiffed yards should now be yielding an abundance of fresh produce. This assumes the newly motivated backyard farmer did not assassinate all the plants with the local nurseries’ latest and greatest fertilizer. Previously, I wrote about an entrepreneurial organic farmer from California who was aggressively pursuing direct marketing strategies. I also noted that farmers markets were sprouting up all over New Hampshire. Thankfully, these markets have expanded since then. When you compare the price of locally grown produce (even that purporting to be “organic”) with the truck farm produce, it’s not only better for your health and the environment, but it is economic. The truck or megafarm transports its produce across the country (and sometimes the globe) to our markets. The transportation cost alone is making local produce more attractive from an economic perspective. So if it tastes better, is better for you, helps sustain our community and actually is reasonably priced, why don’t we eat more of it? For years, Steve Taylor did a wonderful job shepherding the state’s agricultural industry. Today new Commissioner Lorraine Stuart Merrill seems poised to take it to the next level. Our agricultural fairs are a great public relations outlet for this vision. Let’s hope a collective focus on being green, eating healthy and buying local will cause many to embrace the traditional agricultural fairs with a renewed sense of relevancy. It will improve the quality of your life and the economic fabric of our communities.