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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac: Agricultural Fairs

Air Date: Week of

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This week, facts about the origins of agricultural fairs.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under: Mark Schatz "All Full Up")

CURWOOD: Ferris wheels, giant pumpkins, and straining tractors. They're all standard fare at today's modern agricultural fair. But the scene was a bit tamer back in 1807. That's when Elkanah Watson tied two Marino sheep to an elm tree in the village square of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in an effort to show off the breed. People were so intrigued that Mr. Watson thought: "Hey, if two animals are capable of exciting so much attention, what if there were more animals and different animals?" And so it was that 190 years ago this week, Berkshire County in Massachusetts put on what's reputed to be the first American agricultural fair. Of course, people have gathered since time immemorial at trading events, but Elkanah Watson's fair had a new goal: sharing agricultural improvements among the farmers of the day. Prizes were awarded for the best yoke of working oxen, the best piece of woolen cloth, the best field of corn. Eventually, parades, plowing matches, and social events joined the schedule. These days, though, only a tiny portion of the U.S. population makes a living in agriculture, and the plowing matches have been replaced by tractor pulls. Still, more than 3,000 agricultural fairs in North America aim to be inexpensive family fun, bringing the rest of us such exotic creatures as cows, chickens, and pigs. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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