Imagine 375 acres of fair grounds covered with deliciously bad-for-you food, animals of every shape and size, and more rides in the midway than you would see at most theme parks. Welcome, because you have arrived at The Great New York State Fair!
The New York State Fair is the oldest state fair in the country. In 1832, a group of farmers, legislators, and other farm enthusiasts founded the New York State Agricultural Society with the goal of promoting agriculture. In 1841, the first ever state fair was held in Syracuse, NY. Today, over 150 years later, the State Fair attracts about a million visitors during the 12 day event, and let me tell you, there is definitely something for everyone to do at the fair.
The fair has grown, but one of the most important (if you ask me) parts of the fair has stayed the same: the celebration of agriculture. In 2012, agriculture brought more than $5.4 billion to the state’s economy. New York is home to more than 35,000 farms that cover 7 million acres, or approximately 23% of the state’s land. Milk is the state’s leading agricultural product, with more than $2.5 billion in milk produced every year. Milk is incredibly important to New York, so it’s no surprise that there are many events and attractions that celebrate dairy at the fair!
The Celebrity Milkshake Contest
Dairy is celebrated every day at the fair, but the festivities really get going on Dairy Day! One of the most creative events that I enjoyed watching this year was the Celebrity Milkshake Contest.This would be an incredible idea for birthday parties (for older kids), graduation parties, family reunions, etc. So here’s how it workes:
1) Everybody gets on teams of 3 to 5 people. For the Celebrity Milkshake Contest, it was one or two news anchors, radio personalities, etc and one or two Dairy Princesses.
2) The team spins the wheel (pictured below) and finds out their mystery ingredient! The mystery ingredient has to be included in the milkshake!
4) Then you pick out other ingredients for the milk shake, like these folks below. Try to find something that matches the flavor of your mystery ingredient!
5) Make your milk shake!! Every team had their own blender and about 5 minutes to make their shakes. At the end, a few people judged the shakes and picked the winner! The competition was a great way to promote dairy with the press/media and was tons of fun!
The Dairy Cow Birthing Center
This year was the 3rd year of the Dairy Cow Birthing Center. Local farmers bring in a few cows each day who are due to give birth. Mother Nature can have her own schedule, but the goal is that three cows give birth each day. This is a huge hit at the fair, and people sometimes wait for hours for an expecting mama to give birth.
While people wait for the birth, they also have a chance to mingle with dozens of volunteers from the dairy community. This gives them a chance to meet real life farmers and ask any questions they want. After all, as the back of the volunteer t-shits says, “there is no udder place for the answer.”
The Butter Sculpture
What happens when you combine 800 pounds of butter and an artist? A butter sculpture! This year’s sculpture theme was “Thanks for the milk, Moo York!” It featured a dairy farmer, a processor, and a dairy sales person along with a slightly modified statue of liberty (note the milk gallon instead of a torch) and many of the common sights to see when you visit New York State! This year was the tallest statue ever, and barely fit in the case!
The Rainbow Milk Bar
Another big hit in the Dairy Products building is the Rainbow Milk Bar. Fair goers can purchase an ice cold glass of white or chocolate milk for just 25 cents – probably the least expensive beverage at the entire fair! This year, guests are encouraged to Give One, Get One Too – or to donate an additional 25 cents to bring a glass of milk to someone who needs it. Milk is the most requested food at food banks nation wide. As part of The Great American Milk Drive, the Rainbow Milk Bar will be donating milk to food banks around New York State, just in time for the Holidays!
The Dairy Cow Show
The fair wouldn’t be complete without the esteemed dairy show. Farmers from across the state bring their best animals to compete – and the animals were absolutely gorgeous. Just like registered dogs, cows have pedigrees and are bred to have good confirmation and good health. Some farmers like to see how their animals stack up against other farmer’s cows, so they bring them to the show. These girls are pampered like you wouldn’t believe (and this is coming from someone who has literally followed a cow around with a bucket and baby wipes in case she needs to use the restroom on the fair grounds).
And of course, dairy cows need to be milked! A cow will have her first calf when she is about two years old, and will have a calf every year after that. The two months before she has her next calf, she gets a two month vacation from being milked. So not all of the cows at the show are being milked, because some are too young, and some are on their 2 month vacation. But the ones who are giving milk need to be milked two or three times a day, and their time at the fair is no exception!
Some farmers bring their own milking stations, like what is pictured below, while others milk their cows at the fair’s milking parlor!
The Dairy Barn
When the girls aren’t in the show ring, they’re back in the barns resting and relaxing! And after a long day at the fair, I know I was temped to lie down right next to this girl and take a nap myself!
The Great New York State Fair is a perfect opportunity to get outside, enjoy the last few days of summer, and to celebrate the people who produce the food we all enjoy! Dairy is extremely important to New York’s economy and food supply, and it was great to see the many ways that dairy – the farmers, the cows, and the food – are celebrated at the fair! See moo next year!