Sept 15th, our first day of activities in Massachusetts.
Today was all about the Eastern States Exposition or as the locals call it, the Big E. This multi-state expo features the best products from all the northeastern states as well as your typical carnival rides and food, farm product showcases, animal showings, live music and craft demonstrations. There is probably more to list and see but true to its name it was BIG! Boasting 1.5 million in attendance as a record high (over two weeks), and 70 million total since its inception in 1916 this event is definitely too big to see it all in one day.
We started our Big E experience like everyone else…looking for parking. It seemed like every parking lot in town was for rent just to accommodate the event goers. Luckily we had been given premier parking passes and our quest for parking was quickly over. Once in the fair grounds we met up with Donna who graciously showed us around and introduced us to some of the folks who are involved in the Ag side of the expo.
The first stop was to visit the Farmers Market. Here we met Mark who told us about how he has developed and curated the market over the years to creat one of the most successful parts of the expo. The market features a wine cafe as well as a boutique style show that is home to a variety of New England products. It highlights the regions wines, cheeses, wool and fiber craft as well as other vale added products. The most popular item here, the wine slushees!
Next stop was to meet Bonnie who is the CEO of the foundation. She did a quick q&a before showing us around and we got a chance to hear about some the larger issues for the regions Ag community. One hot topic was the land use and zoning challenges that come with pressure from development. Seems like they have similar challenges to Hawaii, but also maybe some solutions that we can learn from. One that stood out was a $40 documentation fee that is assessed every time land is bought/sold. Part of the fee goes directly to dairy farmers to help keep them in operation and the rest goes to other interest groups like conservation, farmland preservation and culture and tourism. After or discussion we toured the barn that houses all the animals for the showing competitions. It was full of cows and sheep at the moment. She explained to us the extensive bio-security measure they have in place to not only ensure animal welfare but fairness in competitions as well.
We ended our tours with Nancy, who graciously got us all cream puffs and took us to see the displays chronicling the Expos history. Some historic items of note were the costume from the trapeze artist that performed from a helicopter above the fair grounds and the 1919 article about the New England fat mans club that needed special access to enter the fair because they couldn’t fit into the turnstiles.
The rest of the day we were free to peruse the expo and fill up on all The Big E had to offer. What a full day and (stomach)! Fat men and food aside, at its core the Big E is and always will be about Ag. It’s founder Joshua Brooks intended the expo to highlight the agricultural traditions of New England and show the world the best it has to offer. Today 20,000 4-H and FFA youth participate in livestock contests and present agricultural displays and projects. As Gene said, it’s really about raising our youth to be the agriculturalists of tomorrow.
We ended the day with a debrief of our time in DC, a quick nap in the grass at Sarah’s house and dinner in Northampton.