Agricultural fans flock to Marshfield for the annual fair

Sydney Schwartz

Each year at the end of August, the Fredrickson family drives down from their farm, nearly three hours north in Wolfeboro, N.H., to attend the Marshfield Fair.

They bring cows, lambs, flowers, and vegetables and, like many other exhibitors, set up camp for about 10-days on the fairgrounds, near Route 3A and South River streets.

The Fredricksons, who moved from Norwell about four years ago, also attend fairs in New Hampshire and Maine. But Marshfield, they say, is worth the trip.

 “There’s a lot of fairs. But it’s kind of just we would rather go to Marshfield,” said Anna Fredrickson, 11, who plans to show beef cows and market lambs at the fair. “It’s just a really fun thing for the family to do.”

The 140th annual Marshfield Fair kicks off Friday and runs through Aug. 26. Organizers expect more than 175,000 people, an influx of about 9 to 10 thousand people daily.

Fairgoers come mostly from the South Shore, the Boston and Providence areas and Bristol County, organizers say. But in the past, exhibitors have come from as far as California, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Kansas.

 “We have people entering contests from all over New England,” said Leonard LaForest, president of the Marshfield Agricultural and Horticultural Society, which has organized the fair since 1867.

 “When it comes to the horse pulls and giant pumpkins, a lot of the other exhibits like that, we have people from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York,” he added. “People like to come someplace where they can enjoy themselves with their families. There’s a little something for everyone here.”

People come for the carnival rides, music, arts and crafts, and vehicle shows. But also because the Marshfield Fair remains one of the last truly agricultural fairs in the region.

“We still have all of the contests, the baking contests and the sewing contests and vegetable contests and horticulture contest, the traditional ones,” said Priscilla McGilvray, one of the fair directors. “We try to stay focused on agriculture.”

Jeanie Flynn, spokeswoman for the fair, said a lot of community fairs have become carnival-like over the years, but Marshfield remains “a quintessential New England fair.”

Agricultural fairs have existed in Massachusetts since the early 19th century, according to the Massachusetts Agricultural Fairs Association. The Berkshire Agricultural Society incorporated in 1811 and held its first fair in 1814. Organizers of fairs in Topsfield and Northampton incorporated in 1918 and still sponsor annual agricultural fairs.

But on the South Shore, the number of agricultural fairs has diminished. The Weymouth Fair closed up several decades ago. The Brockton Fair no longer has as many agricultural exhibits as it once did, McGilvray said.

 “Every town used to have a town fair and the local town farmers would bring their stuff and have a competition,” McGilvray said. “But on a bigger scale, they've all just faded away.”

 “Brockton used to do agriculture like this and doesn’t anymore, very little of it anyway,” she said. “Weymouth fair doesn't even exist anymore. I can remember going there as a kid and looking at tomato after tomato after tomato with my mother.”

McGilvray said no fair today could attract children without the rides and carnival, so Marshfield has that too. But organizers try to stay focused on local agriculture. “The fair itself doesn't gain anything from having the agriculture be there,” she said. “But we know the people love it. We love to be able to give it them.”

For that reason, Alan Fredrickson said, his family makes an effort to return each year. This year, he will serve as livestock supervisor at the fair.

 “It is a little rare,” he said. “Marshfield is kind of still holding on to the agricultural roots. I think they're doing a very good job of it. They’re actually bringing a lot of it back that had been lost for a few years.”

 “It’s just a good fair and it’s a well- run fair,” he added. “We enjoy it.”

Sydney Schwartz of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) may be reached at sschwartz@ledger.com.