Editorial: Fairs, festivals join foliage in making autumn in NE great

  • Pumpkin games at the Ashfield Fall Festival Recorder file photo

Published: 11/11/2018 7:09:15 PM

While the weather and foliage display this fall has been rather odd and disappointing from our vantage point, it’s still hard to beat autumn in New England. What we love as much as the natural beauty and brisk air of autumn, are the fairs and festivals that it inspires us to organize and attend.

And what diversity these events present: from pumpkin games to scarecrows to celebrations of garlic, sustainability and neighborliness.

Among the perennial favorites is Ashfield Fall Festival. Not your flashiest name, but lots of fun and a big draw to the town’s long Main Street every year — with pumpkin games, live music on the Common, local arts and crafts and food specialties at every turn.

“This is our 49th year,” said Beverly Duncan, one of the organizers. “Sometimes people lose sight of the original purpose, which was to highlight our local artisans, while raising money for the Ashfield Scholarship Fund. The whole Fall Festival has grown huge.”

Duncan said the festival still has a small-town feel that organizers hope will continue, while still offering quality artwork and crafts.

Down the road, is Conway’s Festival of the Hills, where a long and often noisy parade that glides along Route 116 is a centerpiece of the day’s events, which include skillet tossing, cordwood splitting, music, mazes and more.

The North Quabbin’s Garlic & Arts Festival — which is a huge draw these days — was first held in 1999 by five neighbors in Orange. The idea arose from a conversation between Deborah Habib’s husband, Ricky Baruc, and friend Jim Fountain. Baruc mentioned there were not many places to sell the garlic he grew on his farm and Fountain, a woodworker, said the same problem existed for his artwork.

Today North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival is two decades old and, as funky sounding as it is, there are often very serious sustainability and locavore underpinnings

This year’s fairgoers were given free packets of flower seeds to plant that were specifically designed to provide food for pollinators, which we are told are increasingly challenged in our environment today. But the seeds represented something greater, too, said Habib, a champion of local agriculture and sustainability — they are symbolic of “pollinating the important values” that the festival has embodied since its beginning in 1999: community, collaboration, creativity and environmental sustainability.

“The values have not changed,” Habib said. “I think a lot of the times, people organizing events don’t stop to think about what the values are and to return to those values. We as a committee return to those values often.”

Montague’s Great Falls Festival is just plain fun, with Jack-o’-lanterns, spiced beer, pumpkin pies and pumpkin fries in six closed-off blocks in Turners Falls

Bernardston’s Scarecrows in the Park has also grown from its inception as a contest to a full-blown fair built around its scary straw sculptures. Antique cars were added this year to the tractor parade and marching bands.

The Franklin County Fair of course is the big one, and the oldest and most traditional agricultural fair, pulling in tens of thousands of patrons and involving thousands of volunteers and contestants vying for those blue ribbons for giant pumpkins or crocheted items or homebrews or beautifully groomed 4-H sheep.

They are all behind is us, now, with one more paean to fall’s bounty before us: the 24th annual Franklin County CiderDays that started Friday and continues through Sunday.

CiderDays is an annual community celebration of all things apple, with tours, cidermaking and tastings, workshops and much more entertainment and food in orchards and venues countywide from Ashfield, Deerfield, Turners Falls, Shelburne Falls, and Colrain to New Salem and the towns in between.

“Whether you are a cider aficionado (hard or sweet), make your own cider, are an orchardist, like hanging out in bucolic orchards, or just enjoy soaking up all the goodness of autumn in New England, CiderDays is your event,” its organizers boast.

But it’s all true. 


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