Summertime ushers in a host of carnivals and local fairs. Have you been to a local fair yet this summer? This year the Maryland State Fair will be held from August 23 through September 2, at the Timonium Fairgrounds

Did you know that the concept of the modern day fair dates back as far as the biblical times? There were marketplaces and festivals then, often with religious or commercial focuses. Over time the idea of fairs with an economic bent moved into western Europe, where gatherings would bring together producers of goods to trade, barter and sell.

In 1765, the first North American fair was held in Windsor, Nova Scotia and continues to operate today. In 1811, Elkanah Watson, a New England patriot and farmer, earned the title, “Father of US agricultural fairs” by organizing the Berkshire Agricultural Society and creating an event (known then as a Cattle Show) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. More than just an exhibit of animals – it was a competition, with prize money paid for the best exhibits of oxen, cattle, swine and sheep.

Watson worked with communities to organize their own agricultural societies and their respective shows (fairs). By 1819 most counties in New England had formed their own agricultural societies and the movement began to spread to many other states. At the end of the 19th century almost every state had at least one agricultural fair or exhibition.

Today’s fairs are community events where youth can be judged and learn real-life lessons about winning and losing, copious exhibits feature every kind of fruit and produce from apples to zucchini, you can watch all kinds of competitions from cattle shows to monster trucks pulls, and lots and lots of food.  While the messages about how our food is produced and who produced often gets drowned out by the sound of the demolition car derby, most fairs still have a mission that involves the entire community; a celebration of place and the people who live, work and play there.