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Clad in a tropical shirt and sunglasses like a Mainer in Margaritaville, Dennis Doiron opened with “The Star Spangled Banner,” followed by “Jesus on the Main Line.”
The Phippsburg singer and guitarist, a one-man band known as the Saltwater Hillbilly, was on stage at the Union Fair, pausing between songs to sing the praises of agricultural fairs.
“Every child should be taken to an agricultural fair every year as part of their elementary education,” he told Mainebiz. “The sights, the sounds, the smells, the opportunity to interact with live animals, is absolutely fantastic for a young person.”
Late July’s Union Fair is one of 25 agricultural fairs taking place all over the state this year between June and October. The Maine summer fixtures were largely cancelled during the height of the pandemic. But now the annual events are back, showcasing farm animals, arts and crafts, food and carnival fun.
Contests from pig scrambles to horse and ox pulls, as well as harness racing and horse shows, add to the home-grown revelry. Business is going strong this summer despite the wet weather.
“The fairs are doing quite well,” Barry Norris, executive director of the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, told Mainebiz in a phone interview about halfway through the June-to-October season. “Even though we’ve had a lot of rain, it hasn’t hampered a lot of people from going to different events.”
This year at the Bangor State Fair, for example, a record 7,000 people attended on Aug. 5, in a year marking agriculture’s return after a three-year absence. Held outside the Cross Insurance Center this year, the program included goat, dairy, beef and sheep shows.
While statewide attendance figures are not yet available, Norris — who visits every fair as part of his job — reported that this year is better than expected. He's also seeing some new vendors, although the overall number is about the same as in 2022.
That’s “a good sign,” he observed, because “we’re all partners.”
Earlier this month at the Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle, Jordan Bartol of Huber Engineered Woods enlightened wide-eyed youngsters about construction materials made by his employer.
“I like getting kids interested in STEM,” the Presque Isle-based plant engineer said in the Lil’ Lumberjacks section of the fairgrounds, where youngsters could also learn how to put out fires and check out books from a treehouse library that was brand-new this year.
“The forestry industry is a huge supporter” of Lil’ Lumberjacks, an outdoor exhibit that debuted last year, said Lynwood Winslow, president of the Northern Maine Fair Association.
“It’s a way to get kids excited about forestry, a lot like when firefighters used to come to schools and everyone went home wanting to be a firefighter. We need to do that with our industries in rural parts of the state.”
While the Presque Isle fair didn’t offer traditional carnival rides like fairs in other communities, there were plenty of games and other activities to keep youngsters entertained.
Besides tractor train rides and monster truck rides, some young spectators indulged indulge in fried dough dusted with powdered sugar while watching radio-controlled car-controlled car and truck racing by the Roostook County Car Club, about 20 miles from the club’s home track in Limestone.
“We’re just as technically advanced as Nascar,” the club’s president, Marcel Bosse, said during a break from his real-time racing commentary. Club members range in age from 8 to 77, he said, including “grandfathers that bring their grandsons.”
Back in Union last month, vendor Russ Aldridge of North Country Furniture and Country Creations was doing a brisk business in handcrafted furniture and wooden signs with fun sayings like “It Is What It Is” and “Don’t make me send in the flying monkeys.”
His business is based in Seboies Plantation, population 40.
“We do one fair a year, and this is it,” he said before turning his attention to customers in search of furnishings for a new home. “We’re that busy.”
Elsewhere in the vendor hall, Florence Prouty of Bears n’ Me of Blue Hill was peddling brightly colored quilted blankets, runners and other wares, happy to be inside in case of rain.
“I used to do 20 fairs a year,” she said before waiting on one customer who buys a blanket every year. Prouty said she's now down to three fairs a year, coincidentally also the number of times she’s been married.
A bit later outside the livestock show ring, Mareea Decker of Arundel was petting young Dally, a sheep born this past March, after being crowned the winner of the youth sheep show.
The two sported matching attire for the occasion, Dally with a lavender ear tag and her owner and trainer in a lavender blouse.