“Oh, that is so cool,” the young woman exclaimed as she touched the cow on display at the local fair. Another man was blown away by the use of shampoo and conditioner on show cattle while yet another adult just kept saying, “Isn’t this amazing,” as she looked in the dewy eyes of a bovine 4-H project.
The crowd was four deep to watch a dairy calf drink milk from a bottle and jaws dropped at the yak. The little gal with her prize gilt reminded me that the brush she used to groom her pig had to be soft to the touch. And I truthfully have never seen so many breeds of chickens.
The delight was the children’s exhibition where I am certain there were more than 1,000 entries. Everything you can grow, show, make, bake, or create by children of Vancouver Island. I was heartened by this engagement of children in a country fair.
But this is no ordinary country fair.
The Sannich Fair is the oldest full agricultural fair west of the Great Lakes and is celebrating 150 years. I talked to founding family member and young farmer Ross, who displayed the first four generations of family men of the fair on his stall wall. His son is the seventh generation to attend and show at this fair. We spoke of farming, discovered we had common friends, and talked of cattle, prices, feed, transport, and markets. He pointed out the willingness of chefs on the island to pay for farm fresh meat, eggs, veggies, and fruit; and how his expansion plans were going on their 285-acre farm.
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As I made my way through the cattle (everything is outside as it seldom rains here in summer), I met others who know people I do and we shared some good stories as well as hashed over the cost of the ferry in all that one does. Talking to folks in the business of farming is as good as it gets for me and I enjoyed getting to know what I needed if starting to farm on the island. More importantly, this ‘coming together’ that we know so well is a testament to agriculture and her people.
In Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate, he was amazed at how a local mill became the meeting place for the community. Much like the urban coffee shop, there are veterinary waiting rooms, feed stores, and tack shops that give space (and often coffee) so that communities can gather.
I recall the local grain elevator in my hometown of Stony Plain. In that elevator was also an insurance office that became a hub of conversation. Working behind a parts counter, a young adult who was near the coffee pot, was inviting farmers to sit and relax. And of course sports and community as well as church events brought the farm families to town.
In my younger years I was often scolded for talking up a storm, but it was an invaluable education and brought to me some very different perspectives. Later my children would lament the hours it took to just get past the front door of a cattle show or fair because I was taking too much time in conversation.
Not much has changed.
I love people and a good conversation, and every time I get into it with a group of folks from agriculture, I am taken to a new plane of thought. That is why writing is so important to me — it is the beginning of the conversation with tens of thousands of people and as a reader, you are always welcome and encouraged to be part of that dialogue.
Embracing the world in which we live can be tough at times. A lost harvest, a lost loved one, a lost love. But there is a community out there that is always present, even on days when there is no country fair.
We often succeed and suffer together not only as a family but as a community.
Dr. Temple Grandin repeatedly reminds us that what we do is interesting and exciting especially to those outside of agriculture. Letting them have a peek at our lives brings them closer to us and allows them that beautiful journey of discovery.
Perhaps urban folks don’t know us, but they want to. That is evident in the amazement at the local country fair. And just as we ignite conversations in our meeting spaces within agriculture, it is important to be there to spark conversations with those outside of it.
The world is small and we are connected in our desire to eat, and in agriculture through our caring for the land and animals we as farmers are granted special privilege. Urban and rural folks aren’t much different and want to experience many of the same things.
Mutual understanding is dependent on the conversations we share and support we give each other in the communities in which we live.