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A gaggle of dairy showmen cuddling with their Ronnybrook Farm calves on Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Pine Plains FFA Agricultural Fair. Photo by Elias Sorich

Pine Plains Ag Fair — a community in force

PINE PLAINS —Travel to the most quintessential fall day you can imagine. It starts out breezy and overcast—scarves, hoodies, and plaid abound. Then it slides dramatically into sunny, and a-burst with reds and yellows. Perhaps still just a nip too chilly, perhaps your hands are warmed by a mug of hot liquid.

This was the setting for Pine Plains FFA Agriculture Fair, hosted at Stissing Mountain Junior/Senior High School. The two-day event held a variety of agriculture-themed activities, from antique tractor and horse pulling competitions, to dairy showmanship contests, to a delicious chicken BBQ.

Saturday’s festivities started off with a small but mighty parade, as the Stissing Mountain High School band marched down the road and performed a rendition of “Eye of the Tiger” and “Never Gonna Give You Up.” As the trucks rounded the corner, a group of local teens were overheard saying, “I mean if I see a good truck, I’ll give ‘em a wave.”

Put on in some form—as far a local Millerhurst farmer could remember—since the 1930s or ‘50s, the Pine Plains Ag Fair is an event that brings out the local community in force. Walking from booth to booth, through the barn lined with calves, past the Cow Pie Bingo table—the overwhelming sense is of a community bound together by a deep relationship to agriculture, and to a shared history with the industry.

The Pine Plains area has long been home to intergenerational farming families—but, as Mark Stonehill of Full Circus Farm put it, the community is very welcoming to newer farming families like his, and that many landowners, “want to see farms on their property.”

Though the cattle, tractors, and dairy showmen caught the eyes of many attendees—the secret stars of the show were the organizers, seen buzzing to and fro on their golf carts making sure everything ran smoothly. These were none other than the titular Pine Plains FFA members, and Stephanie Rhoades, FFA Advisor and Agriculture Teacher at Stissing Mountain.

For those not in-the-know, the FFA is a national youth organization that “prepares members for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.” The Pine Plains chapter counts around 30 students grades 6th-12th as their members, and these students who made sure the Ag Fair was ready to go. This included, even, successfully wrangling Myrtle, a disgruntled cow who got loose in the early hours of the morning.

But to this reporter, the highlights of the day were the elementary school Compostable Creature Creations, and the 4th and 5th grade Dairy Showmanship contest, sponsored by Lo-Nan Farm.

Clad in the telltale full white outfits of dairy showmen, these students trained every day after school for three weeks learning how to handle, care for, and present their assigned calf to a crowd. When speaking of the bonding that occurred, Rhoades gave both heartwarming and heartbreaking news:

“I heard from parents that there were children already in tears when their cows loaded up to go home. (sympathetic laughter) It’s like their adopted pet for the three weeks. They lay in the barn with them, and take care of them when they’re at the Ag Fair. So it becomes a whole thing for those 4th and 5th graders.”

As the afternoon progressed, children were variously running to greet each other, cuddling with the baby cows, and making use of football gear left out behind the barn—as teams of horses pulled slabs of stone, classic cars rolled through the school parking lot, and the scent of hot food filled the air.

Summarizing the event, Rhoades had this to say:

“It was great. We had a great turnout. And the FFA kids who were really the workforce behind it did awesome. I mean this is a huge community tradition that’s existed for years! It’s a longstanding tradition that serves to connect the community to agriculture, and also to get the community to interact amongst themselves.”

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