Griffin Huchro and Wyatt Carniglia participated in the 4-H Work Bee Day on Friday, Aug. 8 at the Essex County Fairgrounds in Westport. The long-running fair begins tomorrow and runs through Sunday, Aug. 17.
WESTPORT — Area residents, farmers, agricultural workers, business owners and entertainers will congregate on the fairgrounds overlooking Lake Champlain for the 166th time this week for the annual Essex County Fair.
This year’s festivities are notable for several new additions.
It’s going to be a wet one. Essex County lawmakers approved a measure earlier this year that would allow alcohol to be served at the county-owned facility to fairgoers, mainly as a vessel to showcase local breweries and vineyards — not as a magnet to attract inebriates.
“The long-term goal is to give local breweries and wineries the opportunity to exhibit their products, just like anyone else,” Westport Supervisor Dan Connell said.
The process will be strictly regulated from purchase to consumption, he said. Merchants will be relegated to the upper part of the fairgrounds; a card reader will scan licenses to match photos with cardholders to prevent chicanery. Patrons will be limited in the number of drinks and no outside beverages will be allowed on the fairgrounds.
Officials also hope to showcase vineyards from different counties each year. This year’s slot has been awarded to Hid-In-Pines in Morrisonville and Plattsburgh’s Everett Orchards Farm Market and Cidery.
Local brewers include Paradox Brewery, the Great Adirondack Brewery, the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery and the Blue Line Brewery.
“I think it’s just great to be promoting craft beer in the Adirondacks,” said Paradox head Paul Mrocka.
Brewing has been historically limited in the region, he said. But the water is ideal. He uses a well that pushes water through solid granite, resulting in soft water similar to that found in the Czech Republic.
“It makes a nice pilsner,” he said.
Blue Line Brewery founder Mark Gillis said the fair was a great opportunity to share his facility, which is on the border of Franklin and Essex counties in Saranac Lake, to folks across the county.
Gillis, whose products all include subtle nods to the area — Black Flag IPA, Lake Flower Cream Ale and Red Rye IPW, to name three — is the process of expanding his operation to include a five-barrel brew pub.
“I can’t be too creative yet,” he laughed.
Fairgoers will also get a sticky dose of sap through this year’s maple theme.
Fair Secretary Bertha Rand said to expect a presence of various maple products, from cuisine to demonstrations at the facility’s recently-renovated sugar house.
This year’s featured business is the Parker Family Maple Farm, a West Chazy-based operation that has been in the maple business since 1889.
“We wanted to support the maple industry and show that this is what’s happening in Essex County,” Rand said.
Rand stressed horse and cattle shows continued to be the primary focus (pigs will not be displayed this year due to a virus) with an emerging emphasis on local agriculture.
“The interesting thing is that our farms are becoming less dairy and more veggies and food products,” she said. “We’re figuring out a way to showcase that type of farming.”
The fair board encouraged regional agricultural merchants to set up displays that will steer fairgoers to their farms and businesses.
Adirondack Harvest, the Cornell Cooperative Extension offshoot that aims to boost local products, will host a Taste of the Adirondacks tent daily from 2-4 p.m to showcase selected products. Those include habenero mustard from Boquet River Jelly Mill, rhubarb butter from Adirondack Rhurbab Traditions and a spread of cheddar from a pair of Chateaugay-based manufacturers from the Agrimark Cooperative that supply milk to Cabbot and McCadam
FUN, GAMES, RESPONSIBILITY
Access to an expanded carnival with unlimited rides is included in admission ticket. Keeghan Nolan, a Vermont native who is now recording in Nashville, will perform on Wednesday, Aug. 13.
On Friday, Haulin’ Junk, an Essex-based scrap hauler, will facilitate a Figure 8 competition that will see compact cars tearing around a racetrack while Saturday will see racers attempting to destroy one another in the demolition derby.
Linda Gillilland, a resource educator with the 4-H educational youth development program, said her organization seeks to instill values in young participants through their projects.
About 80 kids will undergo a double-pronged presentation process.
The first, on Aug. 12, is internal and their projects are judged on the Danish system, one that looks at the merits of each undertaking, which may range from birdhouses to quiltmaking, on their individual merits.
The following day, participants are judged against everyone else as a group.
Kids will also participate in a long-running tradition: running a dairy bar, something that Gillilland said aims to give adolescents soft skills like taking orders and delivering items.
More importantly, she said, 4-H teaches socialization.
“They work with other kids from across the county, kids they don’t have exposure to,” she said. “They learn responsibility and acceptance of their personal actions. “They may have been frustrated by building birdhouses, for example. But then they do it again and make it better.”
She also stressed the virtues of teamwork.
“The best fairs we’ve had when we have a disaster.”
She cited a torrential downpour one year that forced kids to work together to bail out a flooded horse barn.
“The dairy kids went down, saw the horses standing in water and started digging trenches and getting them out,” she said. “In adversity, they work together and communicate well.”
Gillilland called the fair a crucial element of the county’s history.
“This is the tie that binds people and communities for generations.”