For me there is but one reason to go to the fair. Any fair. But in this instance: this year’s version of the Ulster County Fair. So, venturing out on a blazingly hot late afternoon — getting in for free because I’m covering this for the paper once again — and negotiating the thousands of over-heated fair-goers swirling through the grounds with its over-abundance of sausage-and-peppers, pizza, chicken wings, carnival rides, business ventures, stages and miracle inventions. I head, like a homing pigeon, for the 4-H barns to the rear of the grounds. It is nothing but Peace and Love. There is “Snickers” the Yorkshire Pig, snorting up at me behind a low-mesh fence; “Delilah” the Himalayan Rabbit, her nose twitching frantically as I stick my finger toward her; “Phoenix” the All-American rooster, all prideful and irritated, strutting his stuff; “Andy” the big Morgan horse, letting me pet him through the boards of his paddock; “Elizabeth” the Nigerian dwarf goat, nose and lips against my face as I bend to pet her; “Lelo” the Shropshire sheep, unhappily set in a head-vice so she can be washed down… and “Reign” the Dutch Beltee cow, nuzzling her friend and cohort-in-dairy-cow-competition: Michelle Campbell, in the big barn.
Campbell, 19 and a 2017 New Paltz High School graduate, now taking veternarian tech classes at SUNY Ulster, and a lifetime 4-H’er, works out of Gardiner’s Goodnow Farm, raising pigs besides a herd of cows. “I’ve been doing this (raising and working with animals) since I was three, so the vet idea has been a constant, and the vet tech program is like being a nurse to animals, which I kind-of am anyway. It doesn’t take as much study — years-wise — as being a vet, but you do more-or-less the same things.”
Campbell has had Reign for a couple years. “Since she was a calf. I bought her at auction in Orange County and she’s become like my child, following me around all the time.” Campbell does the requisite care for Reign: feed her hay, nutrient supplements, make sure she gets vaccinated, always has water and, if she gets pregnant (Reign, not Michelle), will care for her until the birth of the calf. “Which I’ll keep and raise.”
“I do all the things all the time that — like people — she needs to survive and thrive.” Indeed, Reign looks extremely healthy and content, playful even, as she nudges Michelle toward me for the picture I took for this article. But there is competition for Reign…and Michelle. It’s on Saturday, and it requires Reign to be on her best and at her best. Michelle too. “She has to have a smooth gait, straight back strong front shoulders, minimum of ribs showing and not be overweight. Also, she must be the traditional black-white-black of all Beltees. And for me, I have to have some showmanship: paying attention, look neat and presentable, answer the judge’s question correctly and just basically know everything about not only the breed, but Reign also…you have to know your cow.”
After my exhausting communion with the 4-H crowd, I felt I deserved something special. Which brings me to the second reason for me to go to the fair. Any fair: fried dough. I only have it once a year (if that) and it connects me to my childhood, where my late jazz-sax-playing father would carve up some pizza dough into various animals on Sunday afternoons: elephants, hippos, dogs, cats, lions, bears…rudimentary carvings that he then dropped into a fry-pan of Crisco to deep-fry until golden brown, taking them out and rolling the “animals” around on the home-town paper to drain, and while still hot, sprinkling them liberally with powdered sugar.
So, just before leaving the fair, I went over to Jeannette’s Fried Dough wagon and had a very under-priced $6 disc of fried dough, covered in powdered sugar. It was delicious. And the end of a perfect afternoon at the fair.