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Animal Shortage at County Fair; But Show Must Go On

171st renewal of Long Island agricultural showcase still has much to offer.

A Bluegrass band on Sunday.  Photo credit: Leah Bush
A Bluegrass band on Sunday. Photo credit: Leah Bush
It's hard to have an agricultural fair without enough animals. 

It's a reflection of how much Long Island has changed in the past century, but the people of the Long Island Fair know the show must go on.

This weekend, the final weekend of the fair presented by the Agricultural Society of Queens, Nassau and Suffolk Counties will showcase images of Long Island's past and present. In its 171 year history, the Long Island Fair featured a menagerie of livestock from nearby farms.

But now, said Society Vice President Edward Smits, things have changed.

"It's very difficult for us to have a fully traditional fair on Long Island as still happens in upstate New York and the rural areas of New England and Pennsylvania," Smits said. "It's becoming increasingly difficult to obtain that kind of entry on Long Island because very few farmers still keep livestock. We're discussing ways that we can bring the livestock back."

Although you can't really be "a farmer for a day" without sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens to fill the pens at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration fair grounds, children can still enjoy a small petting zoo which includes all of the above.

By no means has agriculture died on Long Island. It has merely shifted its focus to more high-value crops produced on the East End. Suffolk County is actually New York State's largest revenue-producing agricultural region. 

"It's still a tremendous producer because it has high value crops like apples, niche produce, pumpkins, flowers and nursery operations," Smits said. 

The fair celebrates Long Island's agricultural present with fruit and vegetable contest entries that Smits said are some of the best he's seen in the Tri-State. An exhibit hall also features entries of baked goods, canned goods, quilts, and other handicrafts. The fair may also work with local vineyards in the future.

Each day of the fair features free live music, performances, contests and games such as children's races, a corn husking and wood sawing competition, hayrides, juggling acts, magicians, and contra dancing all in a historical backdrop.

Children can even ride the oldest carousel in the United States, a replica that dates back to before the Civil War and was at one time hand-cranked by an operator. It now runs on an electric motor.

In his over 60 years being involved with the Long Island Fair, Smits said he's seen interest come and go but the value of the fair remains in preserving Long Island's history for future generations. Government agricultural subsidies are dwindling for programs like the Long Island Fair.

Aside from attending, one of the best ways to support the fair is by purchasing a "premium book," a catalogue of all the entrants in each exhibit which is available on the fair's website.

The fair is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the fair is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and children 5 to 12, free for kids under 5. On Sunday only, entry is just $1 per person. A shuttle bus is provided for those who park in the far lots.

For a full entertainment schedule, visit the Long Island Fair website.

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