The year of 1765 was a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Both the Stamp Act and Quartering Act were enacted by British rule, imposing taxes and the housing of British troops throughout the 13 colonies. It was the beginning of a time where freedoms felt lost, but it was also a time of resilience and revolution.
The trials and tribulations of our nation’s beginning are documented throughout history, but in a time where much felt left to chance, communities recognized a need to celebrate the resilience and accomplishments around them, leading to the first ever fair.
In 1765, the old Town of York hosted the American Colonies’ first fair, which has evolved into what is today the York State Fair.
Throughout our nation’s history, fairs have been occasions that unite communities, celebrating the best of agriculture, commerce, education, entertainment and competition.
As we celebrate the return of fairs after a year paused by COVID-19, we are reminded of community resilience that have carried fairs since their establishment more than 250 years ago. It is an amazing achievement that is largely due to dedicated volunteers who commit their time year after year to ensure fairs remain community celebrations that honor the best of both people and culture.
Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to the Crawford County Fair to celebrate its 75-year anniversary and the dedication of the fair’s new historical museum. As I toured the museum with members of the fair’s anniversary celebration committee, there was a shared sense of accomplishment and pride.
The story walls recollected the rich agricultural heritage of the show, while highlighting fair board members and volunteers, entertainment throughout the years and improvements to the facilities that have allowed the fair to continue growing for 75 years.
The museum was a tribute to the fair, but it was also a tribute to the Crawford County community that has supported the fair from its beginning.
Celebrating Agriculture and Heritage
Pennsylvania’s more than 100 fairs each share in telling the story of their greater communities. They are a piece of Americana that pay tribute to the resiliency of the pioneers who came before us, and they are a gateway to better understanding the humble beginnings of our agricultural heritage.
Fairs embody the best of Pennsylvania agriculture. They are an opportunity to display and celebrate harvests, but they are also an opportunity to learn and share ideas.
The competitive nature of fairs — from livestock to family living — make exhibitors and fairgoers ask what more they can do to strengthen their farms and operations. Fairs are a critical piece of history that have been instrumental in helping communities and agriculture evolve.
Fairs also play an important role in agritourism and agriculture education. When my home fair, the South Mountain Fair, first began in 1922, there were more than 200,000 farms across the commonwealth. Today, Pennsylvania has just over 53,000 farms that help feed consumers throughout the greater northeast and the world.
We have seen shifts in societal norms that have removed generations from the family farm, but everyone eats. Everyone should be an informed consumer. And, there is a place in agriculture for everyone.
Pennsylvania’s fairs continue to serve as educational endeavors that highlight the best of agriculture while also providing a glimpse into where food comes from and how young people can become involved in agriculture and youth programs like 4-H and FFA.
Coming to the fair is a family affair. It is a time to connect with old friends and new acquaintances, but it is also a time to support your neighbors and local businesses who come to the fair to share their crafts.
From local vendors to amusement rides and entertainment, fairs contribute $126 million in economic impact to Pennsylvania’s economy. They create jobs, invest in communities and generate more than $50 million in revenue each year.
Fairs have left an indelible impact on the commonwealth. They embody the spirit of Pennsylvania agriculture, and they are a testament to our nation’s history.
Since 1765, fairs have exemplified community resiliency. They carry hope, new beginnings and sense of pride that unites us all.
If you want to see Pennsylvania — in fact, if you want to see America — go to the fair.
As we celebrate the traditions and achievements of Pennsylvania’s fairs this summer, let us also celebrate their impacts to society. Fairs have made our communities stronger and they will continue telling the story of humble beginnings for generations to come.