For retired Vermont agricultural extension agent Lucien Paquette, life has been long and sweet like the grass. The 92-year-old Middlebury resident - the father of 12 successful children - grew up as the son of Roman Catholic French-Canadian immigrant dairy farmers in Craftsbury. Today, Paquette is best known for the creation of Addison County Fair & Field Days in 1948; he was also the driving force in forging Addison County's agricultural leadership position during Vermont's post-World War II era. So when Lucien Paquette talks about agriculture, everybody listens.
Paquette, who turns 93 this summer, doesn't rest on his green laurels. He remains Field Days' most respected, elder spokesman; he also heads-up the county fair's one-of-a kind annual Hand-Mowing competition.
In addition to his leadership within the agricultural community, Paquette has also demonstrated boundless service to the community as a 67-year-long member of the Knights of Columbus in Addison County. He is also a founding member of Addison County Right to Life. As a faithful Christian, he has inspired many fellow church-goers to rediscover their Catholic faith.
Paquette's most beloved Field Days event, the hand-mowing competition, started in 1978; today it involves dozens of participants of all ages, scythes in hand, swinging at well-tended 15'- and 25'-long grass strips. The activity may be the last vestige of 19th-century technology in a 21st-century world, but Field Days' attendees seem to love it for its simple physicality and celebration of the farming life.
Fueled by an early interest in agricultural science and technology, Paquette decided to pursue the study of agricultural at the University of Vermont during the late 1930s. At UVM, the studious Paquette was awarded a B.S. degree in agriculture, magna cum laude, in 1940; he later added a master's degree in extension service education in 1965.
Following graduation, Paquette began working in UVM's Extension Service program. During the 1950s, he was appointed superintendent of the historic Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge. And during that time, Paquette's halcyon days in local agriculture, he and his late wife Loretta brought up 12 children-eight of the 12, like their pop, are UVM graduates.
When Paquette, with the help of others, revived Addison County's annual ag fair back in 1948, it followed a fallow time after the closing of the old county fairgrounds (at the site of today's Mary Hogan Elementary School on Court Street in Middlebury).
"I wanted the focus to be on agriculture and education," Paquette said, "so the emphasis was on the 'field days' aspect of it with exhibitors, livestock, and farm equipment."
Paquette singlehandedly contacted 20 organizations in the county to show their support of a new ag event. The rest is local history.
Today, Paquette is searching for a new hand-mowing competition "superintendent" at Field Days.
"I know I won't be doing this forever," he said. "The event started in 1978 and I've been superintendent since then. I said I'd like someone to work with me who has an interest in hand mowing and would be available to replace me. Without a superintendent, this event will not continue."
Paquette scoured the Internet and didn't found another similar event in the country.
"A few years ago, a dairyman from New Hampshire headed up a hand-mowing contest in connection with the Dairy Herd Improvement Association annual meeting," he said. "This continued for several years until that dairyman stepped down and the contested ended. There's another glimmer of hope in New Hampshire; it may be indirectly because of our contest. The North Haverhill Fair is giving some consideration and is working with Tony Morse of Bath, N.H., who has participated in the Addison County Contest since 1998."
Paquette said word of Field Days' Hand-Mowing contest continues to spread far and wide.
"A gentleman from Missouri plans to visit our contest this year... he read an article about it in Farm Show magazine published in Minnesota," he said.
Over the years, there have been 144 contestants coming from Vermont and all New England States except Rhode Island-also from New York and Canada.
"When a Maritime Hand Mowing Contest was being planned in Nova Scotia in 2003, " Paquette added, "I was contacted for information about our event and some of our organization and classes are being used there."
Paquette hopes that more young people will try their hand at mowing during the annual Field Days event.
"Hand-mowing can be good exercise whatever your age. So, everyone's invited to tray their hand at it. Though I have no volunteers at this time to work with me, a young lady from Burlington, a first time contestant last year, is preparing a "manual" listing all the details in chronological order of what I do in preparing and conducting the contest," he said. "This will be a very helpful guide but we need young people-now-to continue this unique event which hopefully will continue and improve into the future. The contest is a unique event which hopefully will continue and improve into the future."
To get involved with the hand-mowing event, contact: Lucien Paquette at 397 Weybridge St., Middlebury 05753, 388-2898 or L2Paquette@aol.com.