Things are where they are for a reason and The Big E is no exception. Following ancient traditions, American agricultural fairs began to expand in popularity and significance, with some arriving sooner rather than later, andsome growing in importance and popularity while others disappeared, all through the XIX and early XX century.
“The Eastern States Exposition” was a late comer to the field of ag expos but has since become one of the largest fairs in the country and the largest in the east. Given that many other such events preceded it in the region it is most likely that it’s climb to prominence relates to some advantages it presents to potential fair goers whether those fair goers are producers or consumers of agricultural products, and therein lies the substance of this post.
Given the success of the Big E along with the location of the northeast’s regional farm bank in Springfield I would hazard to guess that it represents a sort of frontier between the most significant and productive agricultural producers in the region, located primarily to the north and west, and transportation links both north-south, and east-west be they roadways, railways, or even the Connecticut River. In short, this was the ideal spot for bringing together the farmers and all of the rest of us who rely on them in this region.
It has meant a lot to us here in the region, though we’ve taken most of it for granted. Even Springfield’s long pro hockey tradition goes back to having an arena available to house it which the Eastern States Exposition provided. At the wedding we attended last weekend the groom announced which people had come from the farthest flung places, and while Australia topped the list, his mention of Springfield, Massachusetts brought an older woman scurrying to our table to tell us just how much she had enjoyed “New England’s Great State Fair”.
Kunstler repeats ad naseum that the future will belong to places with “meaningful connections to agriculture”, and if he is right I hope that being in a river valley with New England’s most productive soil and in a place where fossil water isn’t necessary for most production, and where the growing season may be elongating will serve us well. More importantly though, it is one of the few things that binds us as a community.
I was contemplating just how unlovable most of our civilization is. It is impossible to imagine future generations of tourists visiting the ruins of our Wal-Marts and Target stores, and even our horrific auto centric town centers and institutions. Most of the ersatz communities we’ve built over the last 60 years (and 95% of what is built in this country has been built in that time) are unlovable and downright despairingly ugly.
As humans we want more than to just survive, we want to be ennobled and uplifted. Perhaps 5% of our built environment does that, and perhaps 5% of our “cultural infrastructure” does that as well. I wouldn’t say that the fried dough and cheese curds on the midway are part of that 5%, but gathering and celebrating what farms, farming, and farmers do for us certainly is. Giving those of us not directly connected to our region’s agricultural past and present a means by which to come to understand it may be the only thing that gives us a fighting chance at a significant future.