Now running for 179 years, the Long Island Fair took both kids and parents alike back to Long Island’s roots to learn about the farming history of the fertile land over Labor Day weekend.
The fair, held every year at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration and hosted by Nassau County and the Agricultural Society of Queens, Nassau and Suffolk, is one of the oldest festivals in New York State.
“It’s about bringing kids to see what Long Island was like,” said Agricultural Society Board of Directors member James Rucck. “It’s about getting kids to know how important agriculture was to Long Island.”
The fair, originally held in Mineola, featured old-time rides, games for kids, animal exhibits, circus acts, demonstrations and old-time buildings to explore on the grounds. This year, attendance at the fair was up from 0 last year, as the 2020 rendition of the festival was canceled due to COVID-19.
A steady stream of guests flowed in over the three days, flocking to the many activities the fair had to offer such as a petting zoo, camel rides and a variety of performances.
“For a year where there was virtually nothing, it’s a breath of fresh air,” said Robert Brady of New Hyde Park. He was at the fair on Saturday with his wife, Loretta.
The two have been attending the fair for the last 30 years, and they remember the days of bringing their children to the grounds.
“It makes history fun, especially when you have little kids,” Loretta said. “It’s not only enjoyment, but it’s learning too.”
One way guests could learn about the many skills and crafts taken up by Long Islanders was by taking a step into the ground’s restored exhibition hall to view the fair’s blue ribbon contest. Basket making, painting, baking, plants, jewelry and photography were some of the many categories on display in the hall where entrants submitted their work.
Gina Mars, a potter and an art teacher at the Spirit of Huntington Center at Huntington Station, was inside the exhibition hall displaying her original pottery. She said that despite the pandemic, she was able to continue teaching pottery from a safe distance, and art in a time like this was how many got through such an unprecedented time.
“I just feel that the Long Island Fair in general is just a wonderful fair,” Mars said. “Not only do you get to meet people, but you get to share your craft. You meet people who do quilting, not just ceramics, but painting… so many different mediums and it call comes together once a year. It’s just very important to remember craft in society.”
By remembering craft in society, Mars added, it will allow future generations to carry on skills like quilting, painting, pottery making and baking.
Taking up a corner space of the exhibition was the poetry competition. One of the judges at the competition, former Suffolk County Poet Laureate Robert Savino of West Islip, said he read through dozens of poems in different categories and age groups. Children and adults could enter in Free Verse, Rhyme and Haiku.
“Having children engaged in poetry- this is what you hope for as Poet Laureate,” Savino said.
Also part of the tradition of competing was produce. Not too far away from the exhibition hall, produce of all kinds were on display.
Lorraine Anderson, dressed in historical garb, explained that competitors from Nassau, Suffolk and Queens grew all the vegetables and herbs that fairgoers were eying that Labor Day weekend.
When asked if the pandemic impacted these local farmers and gardeners represented in the competition here, Anderson explained that some have been able to dedicate even more time to their gardening hobby. “One lady said that she has actually been able to give more time to her garden because of COVID,” Anderson said. “So it actually benefited her. She has so much to enter and everything was beautiful that she brought in.”
Jonathan Offi, who travels cross country with his 11 dogs to put on a show called “Canines In The Clouds” said at the fair that even though he was not able to perform for 18 months, he was able to dedicate more time to training his dogs, who do all kinds of stunts like jumping, walking across a ladder and impressive dives into a pool.
Now that Offi is back to traveling with his dogs, who are all from shelters, he said they are happy to feed off the energy of the crowd again. Part of Offi’s mission is to promote getting the right dog for one’s lifestyle.
Tim Commerford, who was operating the camel rides at the fair, said that his animals, too, missed interacting with the people during the lockdown months. At the fair, Commerford had with him four dromedary camels; three of them for rides and one of them for the petting zoo.
“It was a little different during the pandemic,” Commerford said. “We’ve done a lot of special home and private stuff, lot of petting zoos. But we still, this year, actually see that the events are on, just a few restrictions like maintaining a distance. But all in all, everybody wants to get out.” And get out families did, as a steady stream of people enjoyed a taste of normalcy at the Long Island Fair.
To learn more about the Long Island Fair and their future dates, visit www.lifair.org.
Jennifer Corr contributed to this story.