Agriculture — in All its Forms — To Be Celebrated at Riverhead Country Fair
By Gavin Menu
Thanks to water power provided by the Peconic River, the Town of Riverhead was has been for mass production of all kinds of goods, and certainly produce, since its founding in 1792. By the mid 19th century, Riverhead’s farmers were seen as visionaries when it came to agriculture. Today, no other area on Long Island has such large tracts of farmland growing such an awesome array of produce, flowers and landscape supplies.
That said, farming in the modern age is not without its problems or complications. The busy summer season has been extended into both the spring and fall, providing a boon for farmers, but at the same time development coupled with mass commercial production at rock-bottom prices has been a detriment to the industry as a whole.
Which is why Sunday, October 9 is such an important date this year. It’s the day of the 41st Annual Riverhead Country Fair, one of New York State’s largest festivals where thousands will gather in and around downtown Riverhead to celebrate the town’s agricultural history and the tradition of growing and creating things in small batches, even by hand. It’s a day when the best of the best are rewarded with ribbons and cash prizes, and when everyone from young children to seasoned farmers with roots in the town’s famed soil can sit back, laugh, smile and celebrate their proud heritage.
And nothing is more synonymous with the Riverhead Country Fair than its famous competitions, held on the grounds of East End Arts on East Main Street, where commercial and home growers alike compete for best in show for largest pumpkin to best tomato, and everything in between.
“When you enter something for the first time and you see your name on that winner board, and that blue ribbon is hanging on something you made or baked, it’s such a good feeling,” said Sue Young, who has run the competitive side of the fair for the last 20 years. “It’s like seeing a baby walk for the first time.”
Competitions are held in so many categories, it’s impossible to mention them all on these few pages. Largest squash, zucchini, cauliflower and cabbage, best garlic or broccoli, peppers or potatoes; best apples, pears, watermelon and cantaloupe, and then there are the canned goods — best jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, pickles, salsa, krauts, ketchup and BBQ sauce. There is the floral competition, and the one for basket weaving, a competition for best floral arrangements, needlework, wood carving, home brewing and cake decorating. And this is to say nothing of the baked goods — the area’s best pies, muffins, cookies, breads and tarts are all brought to East End Arts for one incredible day of competition.
“And it’s all for the betterment of Riverhead,” says Young, who enters quilts in the needlework competition while her husband, Bruce, helps run the tractor show for the Long Island Antique Power Association. “All the judges are qualified. We have farmers and people from Cornell Cooperative who are judges.
“The fair was started to bring tourism to the East End of the Island,” she continues. “When we started 41 years ago, everything stopped on Labor Day. We started the fair to bring people into Riverhead. Now the farmers are so busy, they can barely compete.”
For many, that is something to celebrate in itself.