Slow Food member Amber Share wrote to pass on information about the exciting organization Native Food and Wine. The group just explored the wide world of Agricultural Shows, specifically the 160 year old Pastoral and Agricultural Show in the Bay of Islands. Their post will take you around the world to explore what local producers have to offer in New Zealand, from wine to kina. The organization is dedicated to searching out these happenings all over the world to learn about how we share and what we share. Head over to nativefoodandwine.com for pictures and videos as well as a history of New Zealand’s agricultural life.
But while the food is exotic, the concept is not. Agricultural shows or county fairs were crucial to the early colonial towns in America. The ubiquitous New England town square served as the site for producers (a.k.a. the town) to come and compare their products. New England’s spatial organization is characterized by what U.C. Berkeley Professor Paul Groth calls a ‘eunomic landscape order.’ Such an order divided land by merit while retaining a centripetal emphasis and a reliance on the roles filled by all land types (farm, grazing, clay, woods). It was a time when even the construction of a barn called upon the whole community-a social practice that would be rendered unnecessary by later balloon-frame construction. In essence, the entire New England town was oriented to the community (defined as members of the local church). Thus, the early form of the county fair was just another product of a town structure dependent on shared efforts. Farmers and artisans would gather to show off their best sheep, cow, or other wares. Of course, showing off had to be coupled with the more noble cause of sharing information about new tools or strategies. As settlement pushed West the need for such an institution did not vanish but the space for it did. Newer cities, shaped now around factory that no longer had to be tied to the river, existed at a greater distance from the farmland. Unlike the New England style division of land which assigned each family a plot of farmland, woodland, and clayland, the new division of land happened between core and periphery, rural and urban. Thus, we witness the birth of the county fair as we know it today. A combination of rural and urban interests-blue ribbon contests and fair games.
Maybe next time you head to the county fair you can search for clues of the agricultural show type. Or perhaps that use has moved on to the farmers’ market, the Slow Food San Francisco Dinner Club, seed swaps, etc. The spaces don’t necessarily exist any longer, but we have the power to shape that space on big and small scales. We have the ability to turn the Civic Center into a political potluck and to grow gardens where none had been before. Long live the agricultural show and welcome to new organizations dedicated to singing their praises!