Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Big E 100 Years: A Fascinating Look at Agriculture and the Arts

In advance of The Big E's Centennial Season, New England Fall Events treats you to a taste of what this classic New England festival has in store for you and your family. Each of our posts leading up to their 100th year will feature a different section of the The Big E experience but if you want the whole enchilada at once, click to read our article "New England Fall Events' Complete Guide to The Big E."

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Butter Scultpture
The Cabot butter sculpture encased
outside the Mallary Complex.
For us, one of the most fascinating parts of The Big E was the focus on agriculture. Not only did we find it immensely educational and interesting but it was also one of the more relaxed areas on the fairgrounds.
Outside the ginormous Mallary Complex, fairgoers can peer in at the 600 Lb. butter sculpture sponsored and donated by Cabot Creamery/Agrimark. Adjacent to the butter sculpture are the Christmas trees on exhibit by the New England Christmas Tree Alliance. The trees on display are entrants in a competition where the trees are judged by the quality of their taper, handle, stem, top, foliage, cleanliness, and overall appeal. These trees are displayed without decoration save for the award winners which sported a ribbon their quality.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Swifty Swine Racing Pigs_Mallary COmplex
Swift Swine Racing (and swimming) Pigs
Also outside of the complex is a cordoned off area where large crowds gather to cheer on the Swifty Swine Racing Pigs. This is a popular entertainment for families and the bleacher seating fills up quickly. Although there is room to stand, the crowds will be several people deep and would prove challenging for kids and shorter folks to see the show.

The Mallary Complex itself is where fairgoers can learn about animal showmanship, test their knowledge about cow trivia, watch animal care demonstrations, competitive livestock showings, and sheep shearing demos, and chat with farmers.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Agriculture_4H_Mallary Complex
The local 4-H clubs provide well-organized and interesting educational facts at their Mallery Complex display.

Inside, the 4-H exhibits are thoughtful, interesting, and engaging. The display boards utilize interactive flaps, cut outs, pictures, charts, and trivia to highlight educational facts about cows and dairy. You can test your luck at naming the five most common beef breeds and learn to identify where to the pastern, poll, and dewlap are on a cow.  The information is well-organized, hand-made, and useful to know for kids and adults alike. We were impressed by the intelligent exhibit the 4-H clubs presented and we appreciated that it was included in our tour of the Mallary Complex.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Agriculture_4H_Mallary Complex
The heifer showing inside the Mallary Complex. Steven Pampreen (center) preparing to show his Belted Galloway.

We enjoyed speaking with Steven Pampreen, a teen farmer from Connecticut, who was showing his Beltie cow Bubba later that night. He explained that his cow would be judged by the measure of how well it had been cared for, its health, size, grooming, and Steven’s skillfulness in raising it to be prepared for auction three days later. We later learned that Steven placed 2nd in his class at the Junior Belted Galloway competition—nice job Steven!

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Agriculture_4H_Mallary Complex_Sheep Shearing Demo
Sheep shearing demos are terrific fun!
The sheep shearing demo is great fun. Entertaining and efficient, the host of the event manages to narrate, educate, and answer questions all while adeptly and safely shearing the wool from the sheep. This area offers a few benches from which to watch the demo (ahhh, so happy to rest our tired feet!) and the farmer also instructs how to spin wool into yarn using a simple method employing a stick and a compact disk.

As we wandered through the Mallary Complex we took in the sights and sounds of livestock. We couldn’t help but find it immensely funny to hear the cacophony of Baaaaaas emanating from hundreds of goats and sheep awaiting their showing and bleating with as much tonal variety and personality as a person could dream up. We were quite content observing the different breeds -- some resting in holding pens, others being primped and fussed over for their showing. We paused to take in the Tunis sheep showing which was held quite close to the holding pens and convenient for fair-goers to enjoy both.
The complex also houses the Fiber Nook which is a medium-sized store selling beautiful hand-crafted items ranging from alpaca slippers and gorgeous crocheted afghans to skeins of wool.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Agriculture_4H_Mallary Complex_Goat and Sheep Showing
Primping and prepping for the sheep showing inside the Mallary Complex.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Agriculture_4H_Mallary Complex_Fiber Wool Nook
Wool samples outside the Fiber Nook.
A few things worth noting about the Mallary Complex:  It’s important to know guests are not permitted to touch the animals and unfortunately we saw quite a few fair guests who reached into the pens to pet the heads or scratch behind the ears of the unattended animals. For safety reasons, please do not disregard this policy, certainly without asking permission of the animal’s owner, and respect that they may wish to decline their permission.

As the Mallary Complex is filled with livestock—it’s the animals’ domain after all—you might be delighted to know that the bathrooms in the main hallway offer a hot water tap to wash your hands—yes, with actual hot water coming through which is quite the novelty and very appreciated!

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Agriculture_4H_Mallary Complex_Sheep and Goat
Snuggled in and waiting for her showing.
There are livestock shows in different facilities on the fairgrounds with the majority held within areas of the Mallary Complex as well as inside the Coliseum—a larger arena with 360 degree seating.

We spent some time in the Coliseum watching the participants in the 4-H Horse Pleasure Class, who had competed earlier in the day, receive their awards and take a few “victory” laps for our collective appreciation. The gentleman on the microphone introduced each class of riders and explained the characteristics and technique that the horses and riders were judged by. Like other demonstrations we saw at The Big E, this is a casual setting for spectators to wander in, observe, learn something, cheer on the participants, and depart at their leisure. There are proper seats for the audience and plenty of seats for everyone. Due to the size of the facility, there isn’t much risk of not getting a seat if you were to arrive late or mid-show.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Agriculture_4H_Coliseum_Horse Pleasure Class
Scenes from the winners circle and presentation held inside the Coliseum.

With so many events and activities competing for attention at The Big E—the midway rides, food, shopping, etc--we fear that the livestock demos, shows, and education could easily be overlooked as an important and worthwhile way to spend your time at The Big E. It was one of our favorite parts of our visit and the many farmers we met were generous with their time and happy to talk about their animals. In every instance where we stopped to chat, it was gratifying to come away having learned something new. We insist you make time to explore what the Mallary Complex offers.

The Stroh Building and New England Center
The New England Center is located near the main entrance of The Big E's fairgrounds close to the Craft Common. It’s here that you’ll find creative areas exhibits and competition entries for needlework, quilting, hand weaving, crochet, rugs, knitting, and photography. The level of artistry was impressive particularly the stunning quilts which were hung on display to be admired in their full glory. Though not limited to New England crafters, most of the competitors did seem to drawn from the northeast which gave it a local feel.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Quilting Competition
The stunning entries in the quilt competition were on full display for our enjoyment. Incredible crafting talent! 

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Cream Puff Tray_Eclair
The New England Center also holds the distinction of being home to The Big E’s cream puff and ├ęclair bakery. The wide counters for ordering your treats overlook the bakery itself, large enough to generate the volume of pastry needed to keep fair-goers happy with their creamy treats.
As befitting the official dessert of a fair the size of this one, these softball-sized puffs are filled fresh and busting with fluffy whipped cream. As anyone who loves pastry knows, a cream puff shouldn’t be filled too far in advance of eating lest the pastry become soggy. Here you can see The Big E bakers stuffing your puff while you wait.
The cream puff bakery has a small window kiosk outside the building where you can order your $4 puff or you can order from the sizable counter indoors which has more cashiers and where lines will likely move quickly.

The Stroh Building is a standalone building across from the Midway, sandwiched between the Young Building and the Coliseum. This building is home to the popular Farm-o-Rama which is a collection of agricultural exhibits featuring everything from giant pumpkins to gardening. There are milking demos, more sheep shearing demos, beekeeping exhibits, storytelling, and an animated, talking vegetable “puppet” show.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Stroh_Farm o Rama
Kid-focused educational exhibits at Farm-A-Rama where children can learn about raising livestock.

A clever way for you or your kids to get more from the numerous exhibits is to participate in one of the scavenger hunts—easy or advanced—by grabbing a printed list of scavenger items posted in a wall folder nearby. There are challenges where you’ll be quizzed on identifying farming items such as horseshoe nails, pail clip, a hay net and a candler.

There are live animals in this building strictly intended for observation and educational purposes. We saw chinchilla rabbits, alpaca, fluffy chicks, and 3-week old piglets on display. The animal exhibits are typically accompanied by details on how the animals are raised, the food they eat, and other care-taking info. Stroh is also where the Clydesdales are housed in their stalls and where kids can try their hand at milking a (fiberglass) cow.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Stroh_Farm o Rama
Children delighted in the livestock display held inside the Stroh Building's Farm-A-Rama exhibit.

If you’ve ever wondered of how manure is converted into fertilizer, soil, animal bedding, methane energy uses, every step of the “Basic Anaerobic Digester System” is detailed in a diagram flow chart and a large diorama that breaks down each step in the process—both fascinating and well done.
The pumpkin exhibit showcases painted and styled pumpkins--Lightning McQueen, New England Patriots, and Banana Split -- submitted by local children and adults for a decorating competition.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Stroh_Farm o Rama
L to R: Pumpkin decorated as a chicken, pumpkin fun facts, the elaborate anaerobic digestion diorama.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Clydesdales on Parade
Clydesdale horses await the start
of the afternoon parade festivities.
The exhibits inside the Stroh Building are geared toward young children and focuses on easy-to-follow, interactive agricultural displays. The colorful signs, displays, and activities hold great appeal for families and it’s a great way for children to see a wide variety of smaller animals.

As we exited the Stroh Building, we fortuitously happened across several majestic Clydesdales waiting on the side street in preparation for the daily 5:00pm parade through the center of the fairground. We stuck around to enjoy the parade through “town”—a collection of classic cars, local sponsored floats, several high school marching bands and color guard and—stars of the show—the aforementioned Clydesdales.

Ready for more? Read our Complete Guide to New England's The Big E!

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