County fair cut short, but still lots of fun
RHINEBECK — Last week, Dutchess County hosted its 166th annual county fair at the fairgrounds in Rhinebeck.The fair was cut two days short due to Hurricane Irene’s fast approach, but between Tuesday, Aug. 23, and Friday, Aug. 26, thousands of people enjoyed milk shakes, cotton candy, carnival rides, fair games, live music performances and shopping.A county fair would be sorely lacking if it didn’t also include livestock shows, and the Dutchess County Fair didn’t disappoint.Fair-goers browsed the stables and spoke with farmers and animal handlers — young and old alike — about cows, pigs, goats, poultry and other animals. Harlem Valley farms and agriculture clubs were well-represented in the livestock shows.This was the 10th year Alexandra Coffin, a 17-year-old Amenia resident and junior livestock sales representative for poultry, showed animals with the 4-H Club at the fair.She said that in addition to fun stories and great memories, 4-H members also gain invaluable experience in leadership, commitment and responsibility.4-H isn’t just about agriculture, she said, it’s about cultivating life skills, learning how to deal with different people, becoming organized, planning ahead, learning how to believe in yourself and gaining confidence through successfully completing projects and through recognition at the fair for hard work.She said that the agricultural portion of the fair is also very important to fair-goers because it gives people the chance to learn about animals in a hands-on environment while asking questions of people who have a lot of experience with the animals.Coffin said she believes it is important for people to know where food comes from and to understand the different breeds, such as the difference between an egg-producing chicken and one raised for consumption.Even though people can learn a lot from the Internet, she said that the interaction and exposure of the fair is something that can only be experienced offline.For LeeAnn Reynolds of Milan, it actually was an Internet search that sparked her interest in livestock five years ago.“[The search] ignited a flame and it turned into this,” she said, gesturing to her pen of goats and her display of 18 rosettes won in important competition categories.“I love it,” she said. “It’s such a huge part of my life.”Reynolds also won a thick stack of small ribbons — so many that she handed them out to young people visiting her stall.Besides increasing the value of her herd, Reynolds said the rosettes and ribbons are important because they recognize her hard work. She said it also makes her a bit nostalgic when she recalls her hard work herself.Raising goats has also presented Reynolds with opportunities she would not have had otherwise, such has seeing her goats in the pages of magazines. One of her goats will also be featured on the silver screen in a movie called “The Art of Love,” which comes out this winter.But Reynolds said she loves attending the county fair, where she has met so many great people.“It’s like a big family here,” she said. “It sort of feels like a family reunion.”Adults showing animals for other farms agreed.Kathleen Marshall, who was in charge of the show herd for General Cochran Farm of Smithfield Road in Amenia, said that one of the best parts of the county fair is the camaraderie and the time spent with other local farmers.She said that there is a big family atmosphere among all of the livestock people.“And I couldn’t hope for better competition,” she said.Marshall said that she was both happy and sad that the fair was closed two days early, saying that it was a smart decision to make because of safety issues for both the people and the animals.The general manager of the fair, Bob Grems, said that the decision to close the fair early was a very difficult one to make, but it was also necessary.“Our final decision was predicated on our overriding concern for public safety. We must give ourselves the necessary time to keep everyone safe and out of harm’s way,” he said in a written statement.The 167th Dutchess County Fair will be held next year from Aug. 21 to 26, and all unredeemed tickets from the 2011 fair will be honored.