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Durham Fair embraces agricultural tradition

DURHAM — The Durham Fair opened Thursday, representing a clash of cultures and generations that was alien to the festival when it began in 1916.

On one hand, the fair strives to highlight and preserve the rich agricultural tradition of the town, as well as Connecticut and Greater New England.

But, the back-half of the fair is a giant concession to modernity, featuring as many amusement park rides as some amusement parks and serving more food items than most.

Sights in this area are common to festivals and carnivals of all sizes. Indulgent parents tried to keep up with exuberant youngsters who pleaded for one more turn on their favorite children’s rides, which featured themes such as animals, cars, or trains, or they begged to try the gyrating, kinetic attractions designed for adults.

Meanwhile, teen boys and girls acted out rituals of flirting and courtship, as they massed together and immersed themselves in their own social dramas.

The amusement park-like section of the fair was discernible before it became visible due to the discordant strains of pop and dance music emanating from the area, although one or two stands played the country music at a moderate volume that was blasting in other sections of the grounds.

Musical groups on the Green and Center Stages, the fair’s two non-main stages, attempted to bridge the cultural divide. A classic rock band played for a few fans on the Green Stage, while a throng amassed on the hillside above Center Stage to hear the inspired harmonies of scholastic choral groups.

The fair’s spotlighted entertainers are both country stars. Justin Moore will take the main stage at 7:30 p.m. today, while Josh Turner will follow on Saturday, also at 7:30 p.m.

Debbie Husher, the fair’s marketing coordinator, said one of its primary missions is to preserve and showcase rural agricultural and cultural traditions.

She highlighted the 1,230 animals that will be exhibited, including over 200 cows, as well as sheep, rabbits, llamas, goats, chickens, and pigs.

Many shows are scheduled during the weekend to display the animals, she said, many of whom are recipients of competition awards. One such show will allow attendees to watch as a bull calf born on Sept 11 is bottle-fed, she said.

Shows featuring horse, ox, and cattle are also scheduled, she said.

Husher also mentioned the demolition derby and tractor pull as popular, culturally-suited activities sponsored by the fair.

The tractor exhibit is also a frequent destination for fair-goers, Husher said.

John LaRosa, owner of Meriden’s LaRosa Construction, provided a display of classic trucks for the fair that fits with its motif.

“People appreciate them and I like to display them,” he said.

Bob Thody, superintendent of the Durham Fair Farm museum, which features annals of historic regional farms, along with exhibits of 19th century farm equipment, Connecticut dairies, and a blacksmith shop which will be manned during the weekend, said that as the years go by, it is challenging to maintain public interest in the area’s agricultural heritage.

The perspective of at least one tender-aged resident will leave Thody encouraged, however. Holly Andrews, 3, said she prefers barnyard animals to amusement park rides.

But, alas, the reason Andrews provided did not pertain to any notion of the nobility of the farming tradition. “The rides go too fast,” she explained simply.

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