It was a country fair for real. No politicians sliced through the crowds shaking hands and nibbling the local fried delicacy. The Number One attraction was the animal sheds.
My neighbors, farmers and their families, came to Maine’s Union Fair and Wild Blueberry Festival to show their finest heifers, poulets, and sheep. This was a competition and a chance for farmers to present their plumpest beasts, each one lovingly named and fed for at least a half dozen seasons.
Young farmers in training groomed the animals, brushing knots of hair from their massive legs and backs. The adult farmers watched, sitting on camp chairs near their animals, an occasional floor fan moving the rich-smelling air.
The poultry aisle was the liveliest, the roosters reminding folks of their existence with a sharp cry. Close-up, chicken feathers are as beautiful as the finest knit shawl.
Over in the pulling ring, big-armed farmers led their huge draft horses into the center where they hooked up the animals to 12,000 pounds of concrete. The horse trainer grunted a command and the team started moving, pulling the massive weight as far as they could. A quick snap of the reins moved them when they faltered. The competition seemed primitive, almost cruel, to the uninitiated like me, city folk who don’t know how important it is to have a strong horse help you in the fields.
The pig scramble was more fun. Twelve 7- and 8-year-old boys and girls were given a burlap sack and they lined up, some looking scared and others excited at the chance to chase a piglet.
On the signal, the youngsters took off, and the pigs did, too, though faster. First, the children had to catch a piglet, preferably by a hind leg, then put the screecher head-first into the bag.
The farmers around Union, Maine, raise animals and grow plenty of vegetables, too. The local granges set up displays of their best fresh produce, eggs, flowers, pickled beans and jams.
In the dead of winter, many nimble rural fingers turn to crafts to keep them occupied. At the fair, they had a chance to display their hand-knit sweaters and quilts.
Mid-August in Maine is the height of the wild blueberry harvest and a highlight of fair is the coronation of the Blueberry Queen. We arrived during the preliminary competition when the Blueberry Princesses were being judged on their ability to represent the beloved blueberry industry. “What is the biggest threat to blueberries crops?” one judge asked. “The weather,” one contestant responded, meaning climate change.
After strolling through the fairgrounds and the Midway, visitors could relax in the shade and listen to music, in this instance a band named Whiskey Bent. Listen in, and enjoy a final taste of the fair.