I just returned from the Mount Lehman Fall Fair with my daughter Roxie. This evening is the entry period for the fall fair contests. I entered a variety of our fruit and vegetables that are currently in season.
The experience was a blast. I'm not sure how many people actually enter items at the fall fair, but the organizers were quite excited to see a lot of produce coming in. In fact, they had to add another table. All of a sudden, I was part of a bunch of conversations about what kind of soil is best for growing, where to buy seeds and when to plant.
People asked if I was a hobby gardener. I almost felt ashamed to say that I'm a farmer, as though they might think I have an unfair advantage. The advantage really comes from the fact that eight of us grew these items, but my name had to go on the entry forms.
My inspiration for entering the fall fair came from Amy Jo Ehman's book Prairie Feast: A Writer's Journey Home for Dinner. Written about a year of local eating in Saskatchewan, Amy Jo visited a number of community fairs and festivals, even entering her bread in a wheat festival and her friend's mustard in an Oktoberfest.
The reality of our situation hit me as I read. Since moving to the farm four years ago, we haven't had a whole lot of exposure to the local community. We're rather out-of-the-way at the end of the valley and our errands are scattered between Abbotsford, Fort Langley and Vancouver. And we haven't made a lot of effort to meet people in the area.
All of this is slowly changing. We've met many farming neighbours through the farmers markets and we're slowly finding out about community events. As our children grow, we'll undoubtedly find out about more community goings-on.
But the Fall Fair seemed like the best way to do something right now -- at a time when we otherwise say that the season is too busy for other things. When you grow vegetables for a living, can we really be too busy for the local Fall Fair?
Last summer I was the guest speaker at the Pender Island Fall Fair. It was a blast and, perhaps, the first time I had really paid attention to a fall fair. They had exhibits, a big meal, a parade and, of course, all sorts of competitions for produce, baking, preserves, flowers, eggs, animals and art. It was an amazing day.
These events are so much of what community life should be about. On a small scale like this, everyone knows who the organizers are and, ultimately, everyone needs to participate in order for it to work out. And too many rural fall fairs aren't getting the participation they deserve.
Maybe more fall fairs will pop up in the cities now, too. With urban gardeners increasing in numbers, they need a place to exhibit their achievements and have a chance at winning a blue ribbon.
I hope we do see more fall fairs in the city and rural areas alike. And through them we could see more community celebrations. Hopefully, in the future, the produce competitions will be the main event and no one will be embarrassed to admit whether they're a gardener or farmer. In the end, we're all in this together.