Harvest and Agricultural and Autumn Fairs and Festivals … and the Shows and Events Industry … Go Way Back

(This post was updated on November 13, 2019)

Charles Pappas, Senior Writer for Exhibitor Magazine, has won a slew of journalism awards, mostly for his writing about the conventions and meetings industry.

Mr. Pappas is author of the smart, entertaining, engaging, and enlightening book, Flying Cars, Zombie Dogs, and Robot Overlords: How World’s Fairs and Trade Expos Brought You the Future (Lyons Press, 2017).

There is much with which to happily occupy yourself, and much to learn from, in this book.

Among what the reader finds in Flying Cars, Zombie Dogs, and Robot Overlords is how fairs and expos, and shows and expositions, have their origins in agricultural marketing and selling (including the earliest farmers markets).

Consider this excerpt from the introduction to Mr. Pappas’s book:

“For hundreds of years, trade shows were as boring as the livestock, cloth, or herring they displayed on a rickety table or a reeking donkey cart.”

As explained in Chapter 64, titled, Farmegeddon, the broad and all inclusive sweep of the history of tradeshows and expos is largely one in which food and agricultural science played a starring role.

Then, again, the story of humanity is one heavy with the growing and raising of food.

Humans started farming about 12,000 years ago.  And across that stretch – even as farming systems became more effective and productive – the practice had largely been one that required of people to be hands on in lifting, pulling, pushing, and dragging — and commandeering beasts of burden that did the lifting, pulling, pushing, and dragging.

It is only over the past 100 years … which sort of coincides with the later stages of the Industrial Revolution and on through the Information Age and into the Digital Age … that the workforce rapidly, and in big numbers, moved away from agriculture.

During this period, as well, horses, mules, and oxen were relieved considerably of what had been for centuries their farm tasks.

Technology and improved systems made growing fruits and vegetables and raising livestock far less reliant on direct people and animal power.

In 1850, about 64 percent of the U.S. labor force was made up of those working in the farming industry.  A decade later the percentage of the U.S. labor force working on farms was at 54 percent. In 1890, the percentage number was 44. Thirty years later, approximately 28 percent of those working in our nation were employed in the agriculture.

Today, the percentage of working Americans holding a job in farming is between 1.5 and 2 percent. 

In the advent era of world’s fairs – that would be from the mid to late 1800s – their link to the promotion and marketing of the practices and new methods of growing and raising food were strong and far reaching.

Consider this excerpt from the Farmaggedon chapter:

“The very first world’s fair—the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851— offered tangible proof of these advances, with stacked pyramids of meat and champagne worthy of a pharaoh. Surpassing that, the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 saw artist Henry Worrall’s models of the U.S. Capitol for the Kansas and Colorado buildings covered in a skin of apples. Later, for the 1881 International Cotton Exposition, Worrall masterminded a 3,000-square-foot pavilion ‘tastefully ornamented with grass, grains, corn and other farm products” and a diminutive railroad made of cornstalks.’”

Here we are, about 170 years after the inaugural world’s fair, and the kinship between shows and farming is as tight as ever. People have to eat. But what is also true is that in the total comos of all shows and events, those with a focus on agriculture occupy a far smaller percentage of space than in years past.

And we need to be ever mindful that the world population continues to grow, even as the growth rate has declined since 1970. 

How to best feed the planet remains a vitally important issue.

The final chapter of Flying Cars, Zombie Dogs, and Robot Overlords is titled “A Farewell to Farms.”

Featured in the chapter is a recent world’s fair, Expo Milan 2015, with its theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

Keeping top of mind the theme of the Milan expo, we excerpt here from the chapter:

“One of the solutions touted at Expo Milano 2015 was vertical farms, where crops, stacked in rows often several stories high, are grown hydroponically, fed by a recycled water solution. (In one variant, the water solution is misted onto the plants’ roots.) The farms slurp down 70 to 95 percent less water than traditional areas of the same size, and, if placed in cities, can reduce food’s average journey from farm to plate from 1,500 miles or more to a few feet. Even better, most vertical farms rely on no pesticides whatsoever, contrasting sharply with the 5.2 billion pounds of insect repellents used worldwide.”

Fairs and other events that are much smaller in scope than those of the global variety continue to exalt and maintain a tie to farming and agriculture.

And of all times of the year, in the United States, and across much of the globe, it is early autumn … the time of harvest … the runup to Thanksgiving … that is most culturally, emotionally, ceremonially connected to and integrated within the efforts of societies to feed and sustain their people.

Following, and fittingly, Willwork Global Event Services takes a look at and discusses some of the best harvest and fall fairs and festivals in the U.S.

October – the first full month of autumn in our hemisphere – is a month of celebration and festivity aligned with the cultivation and ripening of that planted in the earth.

If we listen and pay attention, October and the fall … and the harvest … teach us about and reacquaint us with the importance of agriculture, and necessity of acting as responsible and caring stewards and custodians of the environment.

There is no fruit or vegetable that is more significant in Western culture, religion, and mythology than the apple.  Surely when you think of the harvest, of bounty brought in from the fields and orchards, the apple ranks with tomatoes, corn, green beans, and pumpkins as the produce that is most fixed our conscience and radar. 

Throughout our republic, come autumn, there are apple fairs and festivals.

One of the oldest and best apple fests is the National Apple Harvest Festival, held annually in Arendtsville, PA (about 10 miles from Gettysburg) over the first two full weekends in October. 

The National Apple Harvest Festival began in 1965.  While the event has always been about apples, even from its start 54 years ago it offered much more, with some of those attractions, including the antique car show, still on the festival schedule today.

“Mr. Apple” at the 2014 National Harvest Fair Festival

In 2019, the event has Native American dances, tractor square dances, a petting zoo, live  bands and … well … we have provided here an excerpt from the event website:

“ … the festival features over 300 arts and crafts vendors, an artisan demonstration area, strolling characters, antique farm equipment displays and of course food! Apples of all shapes, sizes, and forms, baked into just about anything you can imagine from homemade applesauce made fresh during the festival to pancakes, syrup, cider, slushies, guacamole, candy and caramel apples, pizza and much more. Plus, our famous pit beef sandwiches, chicken barbecue, sausage sandwiches, funnel cakes, sweet potato fries will surely delight your senses.”

Portland, Maine is an absolute treasure.  This small coastal city has great food, nightlife, a thriving tech industry, a vibrant artist community … and set all along a beautiful and rustic waterfront.

Twelve years ago, Harvest on the Harbor (HOTH) was created to herald and draw attention to Portland’s excellent and rapidly growing restaurant industry. 

Indeed, within the past decade, Bon Appétit, among the world’s best known and revered food and lifestyle media outlets, conferred on Portland two best-in-class awards and national distinctions: naming the city “America’s Foodiest Small Town 2009” and the “2018 Restaurant City of the Year.”

From its onset and continuing to the present, HOTH, held every October, has maintained its focus and honored the charge of telling the story about dining out in Portland, and recruiting people to give its food and hospitality a try.

For 2019, the three-day (October 17-20) is organized into several events, with each event requiring purchase of a ticket that covers all food, drink, and entertainment.   

Necessary to include in any list of U.S. harvest and autumn fairs and festivals is one that trumpets that particular winter squash, that gourd, which is the signature decoration of the season: the pumpkin.

One is not going to find a better pumpkin party and shindig than the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival which takes place in mid to late October in Laconia, NH.

The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival is a street festival attended by 40,000.

A sort of figurative and literal keystone of the celebration – the main attraction and fundraiser – is the tower of jack-o-lanterns, which in recent years has been comprised of 20,000 pumpkins and is 34-feet high.   

It is a true community effort, the jack-o-lantern tower project, with people and groups paying $10 to place a pumpkin in the tower. 

Other featured events of the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival are pumpkin carving, pumpkin bowling, Zombie Walk, and the Jumpin’ Jack Car Show.

This pumpkin fest offers plenty of food and a beer garden.

The Oktoberfest festival, we know, is of German origin, with the first held in Munich on October 12, 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig – the future King Ludwig I – to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.  It was a public celebration with horse races as the main draw.   

A year later, an encore Oktoberfest was held in Munich, with horse races still the central attraction.  Added to the gala was an agriculture fair.

Oktoberfest is now something of an international phenomenon.

The original Oktoberfest is still held annually in Munich.  There are no horse races.  But, every third year the Munich Oktoberfest includes the agriculture fair. 

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati – conducted annually in downtown Cincinnati since its start in 1976 – is the largest Oktoberfest festival in America.  Close to 600,000 people attend every year. 

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati honors the strong German legacy of the southwest section of Ohio. 

A view from of the street at the 2018 Oktoberfest Zinzinnati

German food, German music, and German beer are the stars of Zinzinnati, held this year on October 20 and 22.  

We did say German food.  Cincinnati Regional Chamber compiled statistics on food consumption that took place at a recent Oktoberfest Zinzinnati; among the stats:  64,000 sauerkraut balls, 80,500 bratwurst, 702 lbs. of Limburger cheese, 1,875 lbs. of German potato salad, 16,002 strudel, and 400 pickled pigs feet. 

Willwork Global Event Services just had to include an annual event that takes place in Massachusetts – the state where our corporate headquarters is located.  More precisely, the event is held almost at the tip of Cape Cod, which is, admittedly, a bit of a trek – a little more than 90 miles – from Willwork corporate.

The community of Wellfleet on Cape Cod is known for its delicious shellfish, particularly the oysters that are harvested from the ocean beds just off the town’s coast.

Every year, during the third weekend in October, the Saturday/Sunday Wellfleet OysterFest happens in downtown Wellfleet. Twenty thousand people visit Wellfleet on the festival weekend.

Oysters are, appropriately, the star of the event.  Then, again, Wellfleet clams hold positive and popular distinction among food lovers.  Plenty of shellfish … raw and cooked … and prepared in a vast variety of ways, are served.  

Wellfleet oyster farmers at the 2018 Wellfleet OysterFest

The two-day oyster “Shuck-Off” contest is a cornerstone of the fest, with professional shuckers, local fisherman, and chefs competing.

There is music and locally brewed beers and ales.

Bands play and artists show and sell their work.

Enjoy and revel in the season – and the harvest – is the recommendation of Willwork Global Event Services.

To complete this mission, we further recommend that you attend a harvest of fall festival or fair – or any other celebration of this wonderful time of year.  

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