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Dutchess County Fair Celebrates 165th Year in Rhinebeck

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Dutchess County Fair draws huge crowds every year. The Dutchess County Fair draws huge crowds every year. (Sarah Montague)

If you like your pleasures to come, not singly, but in battalions, you can do no better than to visit your local county fair. One of the Hudson Valley’s biggest, the Dutchess County Fair, celebrated its 165th anniversary this past weekend, and thousands of families thronged the Rhinebeck Fairgrounds to pet the cows, ride the Ferris wheel, and marvel at dozens of exhibits displaying everything from prize tomatoes to huge Belgian draft horses.

State fairs are nostalgia machines, bringing us in miniature an America based on farming, family, and ingenuity. Among the main attractions are the 4H exhibits. Future farmers under 18 spend anywhere from six months to two years breeding, raising, grooming, and training a single animal—dainty rabbits, chickens, massive steers or horses, goats, sheep, and pigs. Prizes are awarded throughout the week, and the winning exhibits, shown by their proud handlers, are auctioned off on Saturday.

4H projects are not pets—some of theme leave their young owners on their way to our tables—but there is a great deal of pride and affection evident, and the participants learn important life and business skills.  Listen to 4H-ers Kayli and Melanie Sinon, and Brian Underhill, talk about their livestock projects here: 

The livestock tents are brimming with wistful cows, vast matronly pigs, ridiculously adorable piglets, and cheeky ponies. But the real surprise, to the urban eye, are the poultry tents where some varieties of chickens would be proudly claimed by any abstract painter—or Coco Chanel.

The fair also offers dozens of novelty events—racing pigs, dock diving dogs, sheepherding displays—as well as hands-on opportunities, such as finger painting a pony, or having your photo taken with a baby goat (I succumbed to this one.)  I overhead one man asking the way to “those glow in the dark jellyfish.”

There is a carnival atmosphere at the fairgrounds, with that faint tang of the preposterous in the hyperbole of the bellowing barkers, and the amazing array of gadgets and gimmicks on display—sculpted melons; foolproof mops; waterless cookware; palatial shower stalls; unbeatable barbeque sauce; liniments, lotions, and potions.  And various contests allow you to admire the mastery of such skills as horse shoeing, mooing, chicken clucking, and husband calling.

If you call him, and he doesn’t come, he’s probably at the food tents, trying to choose among the colorful array of tempting greasy foods and unusual desserts.  Frozen banana?  Blooming onion?

So the Dutchess County Fair—and its counterparts all over the country—is America’s hard-won past, its noisy present, and its energetic future.

Get more information on the fair at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds Web site.

 

A lonely cow at the fair.
Sarah Montague

A lonely cow at the fair.

A proud 4H poster,
Sarah Montague

A proud 4H poster, "Pigs for Kids."

A woodworking demonstration.
Sarah Montague

A woodworking demonstration.

A border collie get some sheep in order.
Sarah Montague

A border collie get some sheep in order.

Forget the Kentucky Derby--experience the thrill of racing pigs!
Sarah Montague

Forget the Kentucky Derby--experience the thrill of racing pigs!

4H-er Casey Heady at the livestock auction.
Sarah Montague

4H-er Casey Heady at the livestock auction.

4H-er Melanie Sinon with her heifer Miss Lizzy.

Precious piglets are a big draw at the fair.
Sarah Montague

Precious piglets are a big draw at the fair.

A sign in the food vendors section of the fair,
Sarah Montague

A sign in the food vendors section of the fair, "Fried Dough," says it all.

A fancy new shower stall was one of hundreds of products and concepts on display.
Sarah Montague

A fancy new shower stall was one of hundreds of products and concepts on display.

Well fed melons on display.
Sarah Montague

Well fed melons on display.

Spooky little melons on display.
Sarah Montague

Spooky little melons on display.

I make a new friend, a baby goat, who is ready for her close up.
Sarah Montague

I make a new friend, a baby goat, who is ready for her close up. 

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Sarah Montague

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Comments [1]

Nancy Lutz from Poughkeepsie, NY

We're so glad you enjoyed it! I spent two days there and still didn't see everything there was to see! Next up at the beautiful Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck is the Hudson Valley Wine & Food Festival, 9/11-12; Crafts at Rhinebeck Fall Festival, 10/2-3; and the NYS Sheep & Wool Family Fun Fest, 10/16-17 (among others) Visit www.DutchessTourism.com for more help planning your visit!

Sep. 01 2010 03:24 PM

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