Is the Fair food fair?

Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2015 12:30 am
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media


Tractor pulls, pig races and the passing of summer are worth celebrating as we look to the harvest months and reward those dedicated to feeding us well all year long.


Since 1840 in Columbia County, peoplae have been commemorating local agriculture. For 175 years, the Columbia County Fair in Chatham (held annually the first week of September through Labor Day) continues to be a way to gather community, honor gardeners, growers, craftsmen and youth awarding red, white and blue ribbons highlighting the “best of” in categories ranging from animal husbandry to machinery, quilts, photography, blacksmiths and baked goods to the best beets around town.


The charming old-fashioned fairgrounds hosted competitions and exhibitions, attractions and entertainment of all kinds — rodeos, motorcross, demolition derbies, lawn mower racing and in the grandstand, as authentic as they come in country music, Rodney Atkins himself.


After kicking up our cowboy heels, we indulged in cider donuts at Harvest Hall, homemade milkshakes at 4-H, lemonade the old-fashioned way and Pierro’s famed sausage sandwiches amidst the kaleidoscope of dizzying rides, games and gimmicks surrounded by bad snacks, blue drinks, deep fried everything you can offer that’s processed and don’t dare eat — and a wake-up call realization that somehow in the midst of celebrating local food, agriculture and the hard work of our family farms who graciously grow good food, we lost our way in the midway where the Fair food just isn’t fair.


Thankfully, John Deere tractors from Hudson River Tractor, a central stage hosting farm magic “Agricadabra” from the Hudson River Trust Foundation, the cow barn, animal auctions and exhibit halls filled with homemade, handcrafted, locally sourced and spun goods offering everything you could want or need local saved us from the big bad distraction called processed food snacks we skipped at every turn, making the day cheerful and educational for all.


The county Fair also served up a big reminder: Farming is a noble profession and saving it is vital to our health and local economies. Signs read: “Save the Farmer — They are only 1% of the population, an endangered species.” We were debating if it is possible that only 16 family farms manage 1,000 Columbia County acres and why we farm 3,800 acres of soy instead of fruits and vegetables that are so vital to good health? What we demand to eat matters and your food dollars go a long way in our rich agricultural community. Think about every ingredient in every meal you eat three times a day. What would happen if 300 million of us demanded fresh locally sourced food every day? We all win!


And winners we are. The sixth annual Victoria A. Simons Locavore Awards were presented Monday afternoon at the Columbia County Fair. The word locavore was coined in San Francisco at the 2005 World Environment Day to describe and promote the practice of eating a diet consisting of food harvested within a 100-mile area. That rewards us all in so many ways.


The locavore movement encourages people to grow their own food; buy from farmer’s markets, CSAs and other local food programs; and to patronize restaurants, caterers and other food providers that feature locally grown ingredients and skip the cheap processed ones.


Vicki Simons, for whom the award is named, was longtime editor of The Independent newspaper, executive director of Columbia County Bounty and sparkplug for many causes targeting community improvement. She was a strong proponent of locavore activities as part of a commitment to encourage greater use of locally produced food and to keep agriculture an integral part of the community experience.


In this spirit, I was honored to take home the Locavore Award for the FarmOn! Foundation, together with my neighbors and co-winners Beth Linskey of Beth’s Farm Kitchen in Stuyvesant and David Wurth of CrossRoads Food Shoppe in Hillsdale, which if you haven’t been, run to visit!


Each of us had been nominated in previous years as well as this year.


Founded in 1981, Beth’s Farm Kitchen uses thousands of pounds of local produce annually in providing a product line of more than 130 items.


Spokesperson Lael Locke, in announcing the award, said, “In addition to serving an ever-growing number of consumers, Beth Linskey’s creative and delicious jams, jellies and sauces have also helped support the local farmers from whom she buys her produce.”


David Wurth’s CrossRoads Food Shop was celebrated as a local food hub for the Hillsdale area, using local ingredients in creative ways to support local farm businesses and satisfy a wide array of local palates.


And as you already know from this column, the FarmOn! Foundation has made it a mission over the past five years to celebrate the importance of family farming and local food with a special focus on kids and how to inspire their connection to continuing agricultural enterprise and truly celebrating the farmers through economic development.


The awards were presented by Dick Alford, president of the Columbia County Agricultural Society, which puts on the Columbia County Fair.


The winners were drawn from a pool of 11 locavore nominees doing wonderful work you can also seek out: Kinderhook Farm of Ghent, Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners, Gunther Fishgold of Valatie, Samascott Orchards and Garden Market in Kinderhook, Farm at Miller’s Crossing in Claverack, Michelle Coleman-Pelkey of Local 111 Restaurant in Philmont, Talbott & Arding Cheese and Provisions in Hudson and Jack Fox, a ramps forager from Rhinebeck.


Put the Columbia County Fair on your to-do list next summer and get your FarmOn! See you out there somewhere!


To contact Tessa Edick, email tessa@ Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @FarmOnFarmOn.


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