Two weeks ago the girls and I piled into car after work and went to the Topsfield Fair, the oldest agricultural fair in the United States! This annual competition features the old-world charm of petting barns and animal exhibitions, but with the new and exciting addition of carnival rides, fried food trucks and mountains of homemade candy and fudge.
I hadn’t been to this fair since I was a child, and so the experience was like new to my eyes. There were people of all ages and background (gangs of teenagers to young parents with their infants to old couples with walkers)…all enjoying the wonderful variety of the fall harvest, both traditional and millenial.
I was so excited to be so close to all the animals and see from close up how much personality and emotion they actually have (vegetarianism was completely reaffirmed). But more than anything else, I loved seeing the young children curiously peeking through the glass as a baby chick hatched or gazing in awe at the mountains of fresh apples available for purchase. It made me very hopeful that new generations of Americans may just decide to put down their video game controllers to enjoy fresh air and the beautiful bounty of nature.
But perhaps the most powerful of all things I saw was the calf and its mother. I had never before seen a cow’s milk actually being given, from the udder, to its calf. It’s incredible. All this milk and cheese and yogurt on the shelves…and never once I have I seen or herd of a cow’s milk being given to her own child. In all those documentaries about farm living and sustainable food, the baby cows have always been bottle-fed…when all along it’s mother’s milk (you know, that thing that every doctor in the world says is the perfect food for baby?!) is just a few steps away being harvested for humans.
It’s not like I’m about to go Vegan or anything…it’s just perspective. The farm is where life sustains likes sustains life. From the tiniest little egg to the most enormous and intimidating bull you’ve ever seen, all life supports each other. And despite the dirt and the smells, it’s beautiful!
And of course, giant pumpkins!
These kings and queens of squash were awe-inspiring and made me reflect, however pathetically, on my own adventures with my first garden. I barely had enough patience (or skill) to grow some decent sized bell peppers and here these guys were growing behemoth pumpkins that dwarf the big burly men who made them. Frankenpumpkin!
But as we passed through the fruits and vegetable exhibition, where all the prize-winning produce (literally everything from baby jalapenos to multi-colored beets) I couldn’t help but smile at how laughable the idea of a “perfect garden” or a “perfect gardener” truly was. Nobody wakes up and says “Today I will plant the seed that yields one hundred yellow tomatoes.” It’s not up to us! Yes, we must water and weed and nourish our plants but how much control do we really have on how big or small our fruits become? That’s the real beauty of gardening and farming: we work with the earth and the elements to create something collectively. It doesn’t matter how unique or prize-winning our crop is. What matters is that we keep this relationship with nature alive…in any shape or color.