Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New York State Fair part 2 - My favorite things to do at the fair

This year I had the opportunity to visit the New York State Fair for the first time since I was 10 years old. In my previous post I wrote about the admiration for the young people who come to fair to build their skills as farmers and in showing their animals. I had a great time watching them. But there is so much to do at the fair. I could write pages on everything that you COULD do, but luckily the NY State Fair has a great web page. There were some activities that I loved and feel and are really the DON’T MISS things when you visit.

The Pan-African Village

Located between the Art and Home Center and the Center of Progress Building, The Pan-African Village is a tribute to roll of African Americans in the past and present of NY State culture and business. Here you will find vendors selling African carvings and Shea Butter. There were food choices that include traditional soul, Jamaican and Puerto Rican dishes. But to me, the heart of the Pan-African Village is its stage. A wide variety of music and story-telling is performed on this stage. Jazz, blues, R&B are included, and, in fact, I really enjoyed this stage more than any other at the fair. One very good jazz ensemble that performed is the MG3 trio. Fronted by trombonist and singer Melissa Gardiner, this high energy group played jazz standards and original compositions. 

Melissa Gardiner and the MG3 trio

My favorite performance of the three days that I attended the fair was The Matie Masie Ensemble, led by Vanessa Johnson, a true griot, performing story-telling, poetry and songs based in the history of African American struggles for freedom. From the traditional folktale – The People Could Fly, to poems from the Harlem Renaissance, Ms. Johnson and her troupe of musicians and singers give voice to the heartache and triumph of a part of American history that is so often ignored and so important today.

Vanessa Johnson

Most impressive were some pieces from an opera about the life Harriet Tubman that the group is developing. Based on the book of poems “They Shall Run” by Quraysh Ali Lansana, and featuring the voices of Mike Lobdell and Desmonae, opera explores Ms. Tubman as both a historic figure and as a human being, looking at her family relationships in addition to fight against slavery.

Mike Lobdell


The Iroquois Village


This part of the fair-grounds was dedicated to the six nations of the Iroquois Federation in 1928. There were lots of crafts for sale, and twice a day there are performances of traditional dances representing the different nations. I was told by several people that the village is also home to one of the best places to eat at the fair, The Six Nations Soup House, with traditional Iroquois recipes.

This peace pipe (about 6 feet long) was smoked by Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and the leaders of the Iroquois Nation in 1933

Baby Animals


Chicks in the 4H building

One of the fun things to do at the fair is to see the baby animals. One place to do that is at the Cattle Birthing Tent. Here you can watch cows give birth. If that is too much nature for you stop by anyway, because you can visit with the newborn calves. Or stop at the 4-H youth building, where there are displays of hatching and recently hatched chicks. Or just walk around the barns, where might run into a collection of piglets.

this calf was about 1 hour old


Historical Museums

There are four historical museums on the fair-grounds, but my two favorites were the antique tractor exhibit and the Witter Agriculture Museum. I have always loved machinery so walking around the antique tractors was fun. It was fascinating to see how this technology has changed over the decades. All of these tractors were brought to the fair by their owners to be displayed. This whole exhibit is a volunteer exercise, and I will be talking more about that in my next piece.

The Witter Agriculture Museum is place where the farm life of about 150 years ago is featured, with rooms dedicated to house work, tool making and other aspects of daily life on the farms of New York. These displays include demonstrations of tasks such as soap making and wood turning.
Soap Making

Wood Turning, using a foot powered lathe

The Concerts at the Chevy Pavilion

The Chevy Pavilion is the open courtyard in the middle of the other pavilions. It is home to big name concerts at the fair. While I was here I saw concerts by Survivor and Macy Gray. There were also shows by The Commodores, Flo Rida, and ZZTop.

Macy Gray

Someone really enjoying the music


The Midway


 This year The Midway really took center stage at the New York State Fair. As part of a $50 million renovation of the fair, the old racetrack was demolished and the midway expanded to include over 70 rides. The Midway is the place where kids get to test their courage, parents get to test their age, and everyone gets to test their stomachs. There were rides for all ages, and it stayed open way into the night. And for a price of $25 you could get an unlimited ride ticket that was a bargain when compared to most amusement parks.

So, there it is, my favorite things to do at the fair. Nothing here to your taste? That’s okay. There is plenty more to do. Just check out the web site or app (yes the fair has its own app) and plan out your day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

NY State Fair part 1 - Watching young people and their animals

For twelve days every year, ending on Labor Day Weekend, Syracuse N.Y. hosts The Great New York State Fair. Some state fairs might get more publicity (I’m looking at you, Iowa and Texas) but the New York State Fair can hold its head up high as a great celebration of farm and fun.

The first New York State Fair took place in 1841 in Syracuse NY. It was sponsored by the NY Agricultural Society. For the next 58 years the fair moved around the state from year to year. In 1889 the Syracuse Land Company donated 100 acres of land to the Agricultural Society for the building of a permanent fair grounds. Today the fairgrounds occupy 375 acres and include animal barns and show rings, exhibition buildings and a midway with about 70 rides.

NY State Fair - 1909 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9d/Nystate-fair_1909.jpg
NY State Fair Midway - 1910 - https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Nystate-fair_1910_midway.jpg

I had not been to the fair since I was 10 years old, so my chance to visit this year was something I was excited about. I am a city kid. I don’t do animals. But I have to say that I was entranced by watching people from age 7 to 70 handling animals and showing their skills. For three days I strolled around the grounds walking in and out of show rings. I was amazed at skill I saw at getting animals to do what their handlers wanted them to do.

Julie preparing a goat to be shown

4H and FFA

Two of the groups that work with young people, training them to be farmers and to learn about the business of farming are the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America (FFA). 


The 4-H Club has been in existence for over 100 years. The four ‘H’s are Heart, Head, Hand and Health. Today it is run in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and over 100 land grant universities around the country. To quote their web-site:

“Today, 4-H serves youth in rural, urban, and suburban communities in every state across the nation. 4-H’ers are tackling the nation’s top issues, from global food security, climate change and sustainable energy to childhood obesity and food safety.  4-H out-of-school programming, in-school enrichment programs, clubs and camps also offer a wide variety of STEM opportunities – from agricultural and animal sciences to rocketry, robotics, environmental protection and computer science – to improve the nation’s ability to compete in key scientific fields and take on the leading challenges of the 21st century.”


The Future Farmers of America (FFA) was formed in 1928 in an attempt to deal with the problem of many young people choosing to leave the farm for the city. In 1935 the New Farmers of America formed as a brother organization for African-American youth. These two groups merged in 1965. Today over 600,000 young people participate in over 7,000 FFA chapters. To quote their web-site:

“Today, the National FFA Organization remains committed to the individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”

At the New York State Fair these groups play a key role in developing youth talent. They ran sessions in which young people were trained on how to judge the showing of animals. I walked in to the goat tent on my first morning and witnessed a group of about 50 teenagers being shown 4 goats. They filled out comment sheets that would later be evaluated and graded.

Teens judging goats

I watched three groups of young people, age 7-14, show pigs. Now at first, pig showing looks like the sidewalk in Times Square.  A group of seven or eight young men and women enter a 30 x 30 foot show ring with their pigs. Then for the next 10 minutes or so they guide their pigs back and forth around the ring, all the while trying to keep eye contact with the judge and a smile on their face. Since the pigs try to go where they want, and young people are watching their pig and the judge, there were often traffic jams of pigs and showmen/women. But judges were great. They moved around to get the best view of all of the animals and of their handlers, and made sense of the chaos. He was able to pick out the best handler in all three groups.

Pig Showing

Judging the pigs

By comparison, watching young people show cattle beef was a calm a stately affair. The participants enter into a show ring that is about 30 feet by 100 feet. They parade the cattle around in a line and then line up in an orderly fashion. The judge watches them and studies the cattle. He calls them out one by one for a better look, and then places them in their finishing order. Meanwhile these teenagers have to get the cows to do what they want them to do. To hold their head up, the stand with their feet placed correctly for the judge, and to move when and where they need to go.

I really did enjoy watching these young men and women perform. It was obvious that they had put a lot of time in preparing for the fair. In fact while I was watching the pig showing, I overheard a conversation between a mother and a daughter who couldn’t have been but 4 years old. The child had been asked if she wanted to show a hog. It was obvious from the conversation that this was not the first time that she shown a hog. 4 years old! People say that small farms are dying out, and I don’t know enough about it to comment on that. But the young people I saw were definitely passionate about what they were doing, and they certainly expressed determination to continue farming when they grew up. While it is not the life that I would have wanted to live, I certain respect these families and young people for their commitment.