Irene cuts short the Brooklyn Fair

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Brooklyn - posted Tue., Aug. 30, 2011
Stuart Hebert shows his two oxen at the fair. Photos by D. Coffey
Stuart Hebert shows his two oxen at the fair. Photos by D. Coffey

People were streaming through the gates at the Brooklyn Fair on Aug. 26. With a clear sky and warm temperatures, they were trying to fit in the experience of what's become a staple in the northeast corner before hurricane Irene hit. The Brooklyn Fair is the oldest continuous agricultural fair in the country, according to the fair's president, Sandy Eggers. “Other fairs claim to be older, but this society has the oldest continuous fair,” she said.

And what a fair it was. Children's games, carnival rides, agricultural contests, and performers headlined the event. According to the fair's vice president, Linda Rich, about 200 food concessions stood at the ready, offering fair-goers everything from French fries to turkey drumsticks. For sale was a variety of food including ice cream, roast beef sandwiches, kettle corn, doughboys, lemonade and hotdogs.

Kids zoomed around a race course on lawn mowers. They climbed a moveable rock wall. Little ones pedaled toy tractors around an obstacle course. For the big boys, huge harvesters and classic cars stood side-by-side for appraisal.

Baking and canning contests promised bragging rights, and prize vegetables sat on shelves for admiration.

Then there were the animals, the life blood of the fair. The cattle barn was filled with Herefords, Holsteins, brown Swiss and Guernseys. Swine and sheep and chickens paddled about their pens. Huge pairs of oxen were stabled together, waiting to be shown.

Unfortunately, the hurricane's approach prompted the fair's department leaders to cancel Sunday's activities. Eggers scheduled an impromptu meeting at 6 p.m. on Saturday to discuss the exit plan.

“Our first concern is safety,” she said. “We have a plan of action already drawn up. You don't schedule a fair in late August and not expect hurricane weather. You don't run a fair for 162 years and not think of these things.”

Fourteen department superintendents and their staff planned to spread out after the meeting to inform all the vendors and exhibitors. They were enforcing a state mandate for a full breakdown of equipment by 8 p.m. Carnival staff would begin taking down rides later that night.

For the animals, a thorough evacuation plan was ready. They would be the first of the fair's exhibits to leave. Cattle and working steer were scheduled to leave at 9 p.m., followed by sheep, goats and swine at 9:30 p.m. Chickens pulled the short straw and were the last on the evacuation list. They could ride out the storm in the barns if need be, said Eggers. Preference was given for those traveling the longest distances.

The 4H kids watching over their cows in the dairy barn took the impending storm in stride. Stuart and Megan Hebert had brought their oxen and dairy cows respectively to show at the fair. Neither was nervous about the storm. Their mother, Alyson, credited 4H with instilling responsibility and discipline in her children.

No matter what, they take care of their animals, she said. The animals need to eat every day. They need care every day. Wind, rain, snow or sun, they're in the barn.

Nineteen-year-old Ashley Morin, from Woodstock, said raising dairy cows was a family tradition. She grew up on a dairy farm with 300 cows and said she found the animals relaxing to be around.  She sat on a sling chair in the barn with her friend, Rachel McIntyre.

McIntyre's father, Pat, sat with them. He takes credit for some of his daughter's enthusiasm in all things cow-related. It all started when he tied a calf to her crib one Christmas. “The first thing in the morning is, 'How are the cows?' not 'How are you, Dad?'” he said, laughing.

Neither of the girls were interested in going on the rides. “We stay in the barn,” Ashley said. “It's good to educate people. It's important to have animals. Farming got this country going.”

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