Living basically on the fringes of rural America (albeit with the benefits of a wealthy wine-making populace and within a hours’ drive of northern California ‘s cultural capital), we are blessed by the opportunities we have to connect with the farming and agriculture communities in our backyard, a staple of which is the summer-time County Fair. So, with money in our back-pocket and gas in the tank, we spent the weekend visiting three of these American-Pie County Fair events within an hour of our home.
The first fair was the iconic Napa Town & Country Fair (not to be confused with the” Napa County Fair” which occurs each 4th of July weekend – along with the best parade ever – in Calistoga) “Celebrating 200 Years of Homespun Fun” at the Napa County Expo – which also hosts RV camping and bingo on a regular basis. Older friends even recall Janice Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company singing at the fair in the 60’s. This was like old home week for us, as we bought a burger and beer from the Brown’s Valley School booth and toured the livestock barns, where Herb grew up showing 4-H and FFA animals over 40 years ago and Jennifer led the Rutherford 4-H sheep project in the 1970’s and 80’s. “You see this exhibitor?” he asked as he pointed out a young boy’s lamb. “I showed my Southdown lambs here against his grandmother.”
We were met by back slaps and smiles, as friends led their children up to introduce us in hopes that we would support them in the livestock auction the next day. Some earnest money can be made by exhibitors at his fair in the name of supporting our youth – our daughter earned enough with her 4-H hog projects to purchase her first (very used) car. We had received hand-written notes in the mail – with pictures of them smiling next to their beloved FFA project animals- from the son of our insurance agent and the daughter of a vineyard client, and one dad even suggested that his son’s gilt (a young, female pig) would make a great breeder. No, our pig breeding days are over – thanks anyway!
The “best of breed, best of show” fair was the iconic Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol near Santa Rosa. Russian fur traders first brought these apples to the west coast in the early 1800’s and Luther Burbank, the great plant breeder, praised the apple, “It has often been said that if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple need be grown.” In the same degree that grapes have replaced hundreds of acres of prunes and walnuts in Napa County, the Gravenstein apple acreage in Sonoma Country is almost a thing of the past. But in this infamous “West County” territory, the tie-died t-shirts, patchouli oil and love of all things Gravenstein lives on! And the Farm Trail booth was pouring some delicious Dry Creek Zinfandel to boot. We won a bag of apples playing darts (hit the apple on the board, win a bag!), and tasted apple fritters, cider, tarts, granola, pies and gelato, all the while enjoying watching the locals participate in the caramel apple eating contest, apple preserve cooking demonstration and, seated on bales of straw under the ancient oaks, boogie-woogie dancing to the rhythm of Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88’s on Stage 2.
Our last hurrah was the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa, where the call of the race track, “aaaaand they’re off!” lured us for a couple hours of intense equine conformation analysis. “This is a mile race – look for long muscles from the croup through the hock.” “But it’s a gray! I’ve got the place $2.00 across the board on the gray!” We left breaking even, except for the beer and burger, to tour the livestock barns and watch the afternoon milking demonstration and the last of the breeding dairy goat competition. “I really like the uniform udder on the second group”. The final coup was the short line at the free, Clover Dairy ice-cream stand where we kidded with the young volunteer with braces on his teeth to give us sprinkles and chocolate dip. We got a plain vanilla but it was delicious – fresh from the milking parlor, creamy, rich and ice-cold.
The best memory of the weekend? “I got in for $2.00 less, with a senior discount”, Herb recalled. “Next year it’s your turn!” I guess we’ll be back again next year – can’t wait!