Across America, country fairs and festivals are the happening thing and will lead us from summer, right through fall. It’s rather hard to believe it’s that time all ready. I’m sure for farmers, the time moves even more quickly. Growing older doesn’t seem to stop my enjoyment of visiting the farm animals and walking several times through the exhibits of culinary creations, canning and crafts. Growing up I had a friend who raised Appaloosas and showed them in fairs around New England. It was hard work, but fun helping her get them ready and then cheering her on during show time. She won many ribbons. Riding together is a fond memory. She truly was all about horses and cared for them as she would a family member. We conversed a lot with other horse breeders, but largely, I don’t recall much time conversing with the public. There was the random conversation, but not a great deal of time spent on sharing about the horses or the breeder’s personal experience.

My fair participation is now limited to exhibiting handmade crafts such as knitting or embroidery and canned goods. It’s definitely a charge to the ego to win ribbons. I have breakfast nearly every morning at the Maine Franklin County Agricultural Fair in September. I relish the time spent watching the fairgrounds wake up. Races horses are being readied. Fair vendors are replenishing their games and other displays. It’s generally quiet, at least compared to the version most people will see later in the day and into the evening. Here and there I get to share a word or two with a farmer and observe them connecting with other farmers. During regular fair hours, there’s engagement between farmers and attendees, but it appears there could be more. Reflecting on observations at various fairs, it is definitely a perfect opportunity for cultivating young people into the world of agriculture, connecting with other educational opportunities, and growing a trust between producer and buyer. It’s an opportunity to shore up goodwill and dispel misinformation. Agricultural fairs represent not only farming as a venture in itself, but how agriculture and related activities touch every aspect of our lives.

As a non-farmer, business woman who works with and truly loves “my” farmers and the intrigue of agriculture, I offer my perspective on garnering opportunities for agvocating at the fair and through the year. It’s more than stories about agriculture.

  • Communication builds relationships. Become familiar with the world of social media. Don’t just “like and share” posts. Take photos of your own farm, discover Instagram, and start posting! It’s an opportunity to show people enjoying your fair exhibits and then back at the farm, cultivate photos of you and visitors engaged in the enjoyment and workings of farm life.
  • Discover the role of a website. Trust me, I know how much work this is, but it’s worth the effort. Befriend someone who might enjoy blogging content about your farm, posting photos, and helpful links to information on related topics. If you can, include humor and personal stories of family history or how you became a Newbie to farming. People love stories!
  • Those of us who are not farmers can misinterpret what our eyes see, so seize the opportunity to answer questions respectfully. Remember, mostly, people from the general public get their information from social media and other media sources. Celina Young, a farmer and an intern for Breck’s, hailing from Ames, IA, responded recently to the question, “why are your dairy cows so skinny?” with “I like to think dairy cows are Olympic athletes and beef are more like body builders.” Not all of us can be so creative, but what a great visual.
  • Step away from the animal pen! Reach out. Invite a visitor to take a closer look. Start a conversation. It’s rare anyone is visiting a farm or fair that doesn’t want to be there. You have a captive audience!
  • Consider “hands on” opportunities and demonstrations for visitors. Make communicating fun and responsive.
  • It’s tempting to be snarky. I know occasionally, people can be rude or ask questions that seem ignorant or disrespectful, but try to listen with an open mind and heart. Learn the mantra “there is no such thing as a stupid question.” We want to learn about what you do. Listen, clarify, and then respond. Recognize concerns. You never know when they may write a column about your farm or post about your farm on social media.

For a list of Maine fairs, visit http://www.mainefairs.org/fairs.html.

Lillian is a Community Visionary. She is an advocate for several important political and social causes. She speaks and writes on local food, human trafficking, and caring for the caregiver. She believes building community is about justice, environment, sustainability, retreat and uses this philosophy to weave together people and ideas from diverse areas.

Lillian strongly believes that collaboration, cooperation and communication is key to thriving communities. Noting that local is not only about miles, Lillian tirelessly works to promote local and global community development that is affordable, sustainable and just through speaking engagements; writing, policy development and consulting. A staunch advocate for non-GMO foods, she was instrumental in developing the Maine GMO labeling bill and has organized local food and farmer forums. She serves on several boards and task forces and is a founding committee member of the Local Food Day: Maine Fiddlehead Festival.

Friends have been known to call Lillian the “food evangelist”, reflecting her passion for working with local foods. When she is not helping people or visiting farms, she spends time with family and friends; writing books; blogging and lingering over a cup of coffee or glass of wine. Her friends know her for describing coffee as one might describe wine; although, often waxing into issues of fairtrade, climate change and sustainability. She also enjoys reading, running, Pilates and visiting museums. Check out her website at lillianlake.com.


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