Of the Earth: Agriculture takes center stage during fair season

  • Racing pigs take off from the starting line at the 2017 Franklin County Fair. Recorder File Photo

  • Seeds of Solidarity’s Ricky Baruc, one of the founders of the North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival, holds a string of peppers at last year’s event. Contributed photo

  • Paul Jahnige of Williamsburg cheers with the rest of his teammates after winning one of the pumpkin games at the 2016 Ashfield Fall Festival. Recorder File Photo

  • BLIXT

For the Recorder
Published: 9/4/2018 2:27:35 PM

It’s hard to keep up with it all, but then again, what could be more fun than fair season in Franklin County?

It began in the western part of the county on Aug. 17 with the 101st Heath Fair (the 100th now having been immortalized on the silver screen); continues this week in the county heartland with the 170th Franklin County Fair (the oldest continuously operating county agricultural fair in the country); and wraps up the month in the eastern part of the county with the North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival, still fresh and stinky in its 20th year.

This raises the question of whether it’s fair to include a festival among fairs. Isn’t it, then, only fair to give a nod to Conway’s Festival of the Hills on Sept. 30 and the Ashfield Fall Festival on Oct. 6 and 7? The answer, of course, is yes.

As the gala parade through Greenfield kicks off the Franklin County Fair on Thursday at 5 p.m., it’s important to remember the truly hard work that has gone into this event not only by members of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, but by the exhibitors — and particularly by the young people who will compete with vegetables, flowers, preserved foods, eggs, art, crafts, needlework and clothing, as well as cattle, sheep, rabbits, poultry and so on. Oh, and scarecrows. There is even a scarecrow competition.

Scarecrows can be old-fashioned to outrageous, friendly to frightening, plain to creative, and should be a maximum of 6 feet tall and free standing. Scarecrows must be placed by Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., with the winner receiving a $15 prize.

While the schedule of events is available at fcas.com, the fair exhibitors’ handbook is even more interesting at bit.ly/2PEoGMR.

Looking forward, first prize for good down-home fun has to go to the North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival on Sept. 29 and 30, which bills itself as “Still Stinkin’ After All These Years.” Held on Forster’s Farm in Orange, the festival took form in 1999, inspired by five neighbors including Deb Habib and Ricky Baruc who founded the nearby Seeds of Solidarity Farm, which continues sustainable farming with a range of environmental and social justice education programming.

“The festival is truly its own entity,” Habib said. “Seeds of Solidarity is among the founders, but the community of organizers is a wonderful team of about 20.”

Those attending the fair are being invited to pick up a packet of pollinator seeds that will be available in several festival locations — “a gift from the festival to sow seeds of goodness far and wide,” according to the festival’s website. More than 80 workshops, demonstrations and performances are scheduled. There is even an invitation to travel the garlic globe in the chef demo tent, and a raw garlic eating contest.

Here are a couple of quick ways to impress your friends with spreads featuring garlic, direct from Deb Habib:

Roast a bulb until it’s soft and blend with local goat cheese and a little fresh parsley or arugula. The mixture can be spread on sourdough bread and topped with a thick slice of tomato, and perhaps some smoked salmon.

Or, make a quick tapenade with a few cloves of raw garlic pulsed with a cup of your favorite pitted olives, a teaspoon of capers, a few chopped sun-dried tomatoes or a small fresh one, a sprig of fresh basil and a dash of olive oil. It’s great with cheese and crackers, or served with grilled chicken.

The Cutting Board

My old friend Will Snyder at the UMass Extension — who I remember as always being in the office at 6 a.m. and still there at 6 p.m. — heads the steering committee for the Massachusetts Envirothon which, for nearly three decades, has engaged young people in hands-on exploration of soil, water, wildlife and forest resources, and investigation of the important environmental issues affecting themselves, their families and their communities. The program emphasizes team-oriented problem solving and community involvement that prepares young people for environmental careers and active citizenship.

The current issue — abundant, affordable, healthy food — will challenge high school teams to explore their local food systems around these questions: “Will we be able to feed 10 billion people in 2050?” and “What will be the role of Massachusetts farms and communities in responding to this challenge?”

See how you can fit into answering this question at bit.ly/2wJjobX, or write to Snyder at wsnyder@umext.umass.edu or Envirothon Coordinator Brita Dempsey at massenvirothon@gmail.com.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.


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