In a century that has witnessed constant change, Dillsburg has kept true to a rural tradition that began more than a century ago.
Held every harvest season, Farmers Fair is a lot like the musical “State Fair,” minus the random vocal interludes. Cross that with eccentric pickle-themed events and agricultural education, and you’ve got Farmers Fair.
The annual celebration holds a little something for everyone, as six days of events stretch throughout the third week of October. For Dillsburgers, the only drawback may be the tough parking due to the large crowds.
“The best representation of Farmers Fair is in Community Hall,” said Laura Taylor, who has served on the fair’s planning committee for four years. “We see the best produce, canned goods, artwork, flowers, quilts.”
If you hit Community Hall at the right hour, you can sample ice cream, cider and bologna chunks.
Bev Motich, 20-year veteran of the fair committee and current treasurer, works in Community Hall all week.
“My favorite part is starting out with an empty room on Tuesday and seeing it fill up with all of the exhibit entries that people have worked all year to grow and craft,” she said.
The majority of entry categories are over a century old—things like best apple pie, heaviest pumpkin and canned mixed pickle. A smattering of new categories has been added over the years as new crops have been developed (think trendy new peppers, some claiming to be the new hottest pepper around), Another fairly recent addition is crop art, which are mosaic pictures made entirely of seeds.
“For about three years, we had a veggie art category,” Motich said. “Its biggest fans were fruit flies. Instead of investing in a case, we retired the category.”
On the planning committee since 2001, 1st Vice President Paul Tucker wants to “bring events to Farmers Fair that encourage farming education.”
With a clear nod to agricultural education, the local schools involve students through entries in the art contest, crafts, dioramas of farm scenes and homemade clothes.
“Most of the vendor food booths are sponsored by community groups like Scouts, Dillsburg Library and sports team boosters,” Motich said. “Many kids work to support fundraisers for their groups.”
The popular “Fantastic Parade” on Saturday night is an opportunity for student groups like 4H, Future Farmers of America and Distributive Educational Clubs of America (DECA) to enter farm-based floats.
Many floats for this capstone event feature harvest or Halloween themes, church groups and even live animals. Often, head-turning tractors and monster trucks pull the floats along, and plenty of antique cars turn heads all by themselves.
Lifetime Dillsburg resident and former farmer Lewis Albert, Jr., remembers being part of the parade at 10 years old, back in 1940.
“My dad drove us in an old touring car with an open top,” he said.
Much later in 2003, he and his wife Marcella waved from a classic car after being crowned senior king and queen.
Most of Albert’s support for Farmers Fair has been cleaning up with the Boy Scouts and fundraising through his 54-year membership in the Lions Club by selling tickets to sit in the bleachers during the parade.
While the antique cars and tractors are Albert’s favorite exhibits, the freak vegetable entries in Community Hall hold his fascination.
“It’s just outstanding how they can grow a pumpkin to 400 or 600 pounds,” Albert said. “I was lucky if I could grow a pumpkin that weighed two pounds.”
According to Carl Shearer, president of the planning committee, the crosscut sawing competition draws quite the crowd. The horseshoe pitching contest and homemade ice cream churn-off are other ways for locals to display their strength and endurance.
Naturally, a moniker like “Dillsburg” inspires pickle-themed competitions.
“We have a special dill pickle contest in Community Hall and a pickle pitch with foam pickles,” Motich said.
Having to do more with tradition than with farming skills, the Fair Queen Pageant attracts much attention from the community.
“Our Farmers Fair queen contest always has a farm-related theme and looks for people who are active in FFA,” Motich said.
Not much has changed over the century-plus run of Farmers Fair.
“We like to try a few new things, but the fair committee is always conscious of trying to keep activities farm-related and appropriate for our community,” Motich said. “This year, we’re hosting a national chili cook-off competition for the first time, hoping to add some new interest.”
One change has resulted in paying for professional musical acts to provide entertainment.
“Compared to previous years, more high schools are not allowing their marching bands to march in the parade,” said Annie Cooke, chair of the Fantastic Parade. “The bands have homecoming, band competitions, other scheduling conflicts. So, instead, we’re paying bigger acts to play music in the parade.”
Every year, the Farmers Fair tradition is the culmination of an entire town’s engagement. Some are planning and fundraising for nine months. Some use that time to make a quilt or perfect their whoopie pie recipes. Some work the week of the event at kids’ game booths or the huge open-air market. Others sweep the streets afterward.
“One thing I’m especially proud of is the huge amount of support we get from local businesses and the community for Farmers Fair,” Motich said.
The Dillsburg Farmers Fair takes place Oct. 15 to 20 at Community Hall and other locations in Dillsburg. For more information, visit www.dillsburgfarmersfair.org.