Thank you to Heather Phelps-Lipton for the use of her beautiful photographs from the 2014 Delaware County Fair.
In some ways, stepping foot onto the grounds of a county fair is like stepping back in time: with the rip of the paper ticket and smell of sweet, warm hay, you’re transported back to the days when homemade reigned supreme and when fried-everything on a stick was as guilt-free as it was delicious.
But fairs aren’t just batter-covered celebrations of yesteryear nostalgia. Even today—173 years since the inaugural New York State Fair in 1841—they remain a relevant platform for the work of beginning and established farmers and a meeting place for area agriculturists. For the rest of us, fairs are a unique way to connect with the regions and people that grow our food and our economy.
“State and local fairs are a wonderful way to showcase projects, ideas, and programs,” says Lorraine Lewandrowski, upstate New York dairy farmer and lawyer. She recalls a trip to this year’s State Fair: “At each stop, I was able to interact with people who were displaying their work. This is so different from simply looking at a website. Our conversations have led to more personal contacts and trust.”
Fairs are also a crucial way to cultivate and encourage youth participation in agriculture—something that’s on the decline across our nation. And even though 4-H and home economics still dominate display tents, some fairs have begun to encourage other disciplines, too, like science, engineering, and robotics.
This year more than 50 individual county fairs took place across New York, and the State Fair set a new single-day attendance record. But crowds at the fair still trend towards locals—something many would like to change. “I would like to see more urban attendance and participation,” says Lewandrowski. “It would be great if ‘urban aggies’ would bring up their displays to Syracuse next year.”
Scenes from the Delaware County Fair
Heather Phelps-Lipton was born in Ithaca, N.Y. and raised by wolves. Her photography is a dialogue between curiosity and alienation and explores the drama of the everyday.
Heather studied art at San Diego State, technique at ICP and collodion under Jill Eisenberg and Joni Sternbach. Her photographs have been shown in San Diego, LA and New York. She has also shown photo-based pieces that employ pencil, crayon, embroidery and projection.
Publishing credits include the NY Times, NY Magazine, Village Voice, Time Out NY, Dutch, Brooklyn Edible, Japanese Vogue, Guns, Luna, Nona Brooklyn and Newsday.