Field Days Vignettes: Fair offers fun times in farm country

Editor’s note: Addison County Fair and Field Days offers so much to look at, smell, hear, touch and taste that to put it all into one story would be impossible. Our reporters and photographers brought home the following vignettes and pictures from the New Haven fairgrounds to give you some sense of the scope of the 65th annual fair last week.
NEW HAVEN — People of all ages could be found inside the Sara McCarty Children’s Barnyard on Wednesday evening getting up close and personal with baby animals. Cages and pens holding kid goats, calves, piglets, bunnies, miniature ponies and lambs lined the walls of the building. An extroverted bull calf was drawing a small crowd outside his pen as he stretched his neck to lick several hands trying to pet his light brown snout.
In a corner pen Louise, a huge sow, lay quietly on her side while her 11 new piglets jostled each other for turns at the milk bar. The now energetic little piglets, who drew many an “oooh” and “aaah” from both children and adults, were born just a week before Field Days. In the next pen Louise’s friend Thelma, a bulging Berkshire/Tamworth cross, waddled around snuffling visitors. She was due to have her own litter any day now. Children’s Barn superintendent Gilbert Goodyear, who owns the sow, said he didn’t want to leave her alone at home in case she needed some help with her birth. He thought that the noise at Field Days might be delaying delivery.
In the middle of the room, children could hold and pet tiny lop-eared rabbits.
On the other side of the barn, a supervisor opened the gate to the pen of two sleeping kid goats. One adventurous toddler snuck in to give the goat nearest to her a full body hug. “I love you,” she said as she stretched her arms around the un-reacting animal, inspiring coos from onlookers.
— Luke Whelan and John S. McCright
Hand mowers dance through the fields
“It’s like ballroom dancing,” observes Susan Davis, leaning forward in her seat to take in a female competitor’s wide stance, straight posture and fluid motions.
She leans into the microphone.
“The music is the sound of the scythe,” she adds, and the onlookers chuckle and applaud.
The contestants slice through long tracts of high grass with half-moon-shaped metal blades. Some are teenagers, others are in their 70s. The grass is swept up, the scythes rise and fall, and from under the judges’ tent at the Field Days Hand Mowing Contest, those who wield them do, indeed, resemble dancers.
“Contest” isn’t the best word for what is happening on the field of long grass. Some participants are brand-new to the “dance.” They, along with many now-seasoned hand mowers throughout the years, have turned up at the event simply to learn and teach a millennia-old skill.
Some have learned from necessity, working their way around boulders or rocky ground on their properties. For others, it is less a necessity than a labor of love.
“It’s meditative,” says Addison farmer and sculptor Eben Markowski.
— Xian Chiang-Waren
Crafters meet old friends and make new ones
Under the high beams of the Home and Garden Building, “Grandma” Phyllis Romine is in tears.
“I’m an emotional woman,” the 78-year-old Addison resident says, wiping the tears away as a big smile creeps across her face. Then she bursts out laughing.
Under this roof, where friends gather each year to celebrate one another’s finely hewn, tenderly presented crafts and works of art, it’s easy to get emotional.
Ten minutes earlier, she had cried as she and a friend conversed about the importance of passing on traditions and crafts to the younger generation.
“These are dying arts,” she says. “If we don’t pass them on, they’ll be lost.”
Right now, she’s both dismayed and joyful that for the first time ever she must leave Field Days two days early — her son is getting married.
But her Home and Garden crew is like family, too, and Field Days is their yearly reunion. A self-taught folk artist, whose paintings of dreamy Vermont landscapes and satisfied-looking cows adorn the surfaces of utilitarian farm equipment, Grandma has been coming here for more than two decades. Right now, she is painting a drawing of the Home and Garden building on the crafts trunk — a large box in which a recently deceased friend (Frances Monroe), a leader of the event for decades, held her thimbles and other gear.
“We had to do something with it,” Grandma says of the box, just before another friend passes by and sees it.
“Oh!” she exclaims joyfully. “You’re doing Frances’ box!”
Of course, even heightened emotions go every which way.
“That is the most diabolical-looking frog I’ve ever seen!” a fairgoer interrupts. “I just have to have that.”
Grandma lets out a riotous laugh and passes over the sap bucket, adorned with a funky green frog face.
“Isn’t it just the best?” she hoots.
— Xian Chiang-Waren
Champions are a special breed
In the same Home and Garden Building on Thursday night Debbie Whitman smiles while holding a huge pewter bowl that would be engraved with her name her as the 2013 Leona Thompson Bowl winner. The bowl is presented each year to the contestant who earns the most points in both the handcrafts and foods divisions. In fact, Whitman’s name is already on the bowl — she also won in 2011. While she entered crafts and foods in many categories that year, she had just two entries this year — a beautiful quilted table set (runner, square and four placemats) and a mouthwatering braided lemon bread. Both won “Best of Show” in their categories.
“I didn’t try to win this,” the Ripton resident says. “I like to make things.”
Whitman says she bakes and crafts because it is fun. And she really enjoys the camaraderie of the Home and Garden Department. But she knows her strengths, and easily admits that there are crafts represented in the building that she wouldn’t know the first thing about judging, like photography.
Her smile cracks and her eyes fill with water for a moment. A long week and an hour of accepting well wishes is catching up.
“I’m a little overwhelmed,” she says.
— John S. McCright
Horsepower survives on some farms
The horses’ flanks rise and fall as they make their way across the field, the earth churning behind them. But unlike many of the animals at Field Days last week, these guys can take it easy — they aren’t for sale.
Jim and Truman are handsome, mahogany-colored Suffolk draft horses. They and Whitehall, N.Y.,-based farmer Larry Newcombe spend the year doing demonstrations and educational workshops for kids, who get harnessing lessons and learn driving skills and safety.
Jim and Truman are a rare breed. Suffolks are a “typical looking horse” that most people stopped rearing when the tractor came along, though other snappy-looking horse breeds persevered. But Newcombe loves the Suffolks — they’re real draft horses, he says, good in the field, smart and dependable. Plus, they’re smaller, so kids are less likely to be horse-shy around them.
Though tractors dominate in modern agriculture, draft horses are making a comeback on small-scale farms in the Northeast, especially with young organic farmers, Newcombe observes.
“Are those Suffolks?” asks a passerby who has stopped to admire Jim and Truman. “I didn’t think there were any left in the country.”
— Xian Chiang-Waren

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