by Marykate Smith Despres
The best way to go to The Big E is to go with a plan. If I leave the fair having seen at least two livestock shows and two statehouses, I feel successful. Anything more than four main attractions means you're spending the whole day, which, for me, is too overwhelming and inevitably too expensive.
Since the Statehouses are on the far end of the fairgrounds, it's easy to start with agriculture. The first and most important stop for me is the Mallory Complex, home to sheep, cows, and a handful of goats.
Having grown up in far from rural circumstances, I am always amazed when I see a twelve year old deftly primping a cow for competition or nonchalantly leading a ewe into the show ring. One adolescent I met walked me through the different breeds of sheep that she, her friends, and their families raised and then pointed out other breeds around the maze of makeshift indoor ovine pens while explaining which where best for meat, dairy, or fiber.
Right beside the main sheep showing arena is the Fiber Nook, a wooly little tunnel of love for knitters, spinners, and all folks who love fiber and the animals that grow it. Along its walls are displays of ribbon-winning fleeces, yarns, and hand knit and crocheted creations. There are needle felting kits, sheepskin hats and slippers, spinning demonstrations, and a few things I can only guess were made with the actual farmer rather than the casual spectator in mind, like mock ear-tag earrings. I stuck to the yarn and after squishing, petting, and practically snuggling nearly every skein, I picked out a hank of an undyed, 50/50 alpaca and wool blend from Portland, Connecticut's Twist of Fate Spinnery.
Though there is plenty to eat at the food trucks and stalls leading to and from the midway, my advice is to save yourself for the Statehouses where you'll find everything from artisanal ice cream to Maine smoked salmon, maple cream soda to fresh baked bread. The Statehouse vendors seem to know that it's not just their name on the line - the hometown reputation is at stake as well.
There is so much more to The Big E than could possibly be covered in a blog post, so make sure to visit there website here for more information on the full range of events, entertainment, and other offerings. It all ends next Sunday, September 28.