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Dutchess County Fair: In the valley of Rip Van Winkle

10/4/2013

By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of various sources

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If old Rip hadn't already awakened, he would have certainly stirred at the very mention of the Dutchess County Fair.  Situated each year in Rhinebeck, New York (Does Chelsea Clinton's wedding ring a bell?), it overlooks the same beautiful Hudson River Valley that Rip napped above for 20 dreamy years.

Fair Manager Andrew Imperati reports that the fair's "Ideal Country Holiday program allows youngsters to come to the fair who may not be able to otherwise because of financial constraints." 

Imperati further explained, "This year we brought 645 children with 225 chaperones at no cost to them.  These children come from anywhere in Dutchess County - from all over the county.  We send out a letter on May to 25 different agencies, and this year we had 15 of those agencies join us.  We provided them with Photo By various sourcesfree admission, brightly-colored tee-shirts, wristbands for rides and coupons for food."

While at the fair, the children no doubt ran into Hilby, the "Skinny German Juggling Boy."  Self-described on his website as exhibiting "no particular talents other than making funny faces at strangers" and "breezing rhyzmically" (Lewis Carroll, step aside), Hilby has wowed Dutchess crowds for the past "seven or eight years now."  Imperati enthusiastically added, "He's a true entertainer and will be with us for years to come."

The children also had plenty more heritage besides Rip Van Winkle to explore.  No need to travel any farther than the fairgrounds to find an Antique Museum Village, complete with costumed story-tellers, a working 1900s printing press, and a working Model-T-era auto shop.

For those educationally inclined, there was not only an old-time, one-room schoolhouse from days of yore, but also a modern-day BOCES Tent that offered a potpourri of vocational options for up-and-coming professionals to consider.  Imperati shared that this BOCES program "is near and dear to us because it promotes a lifestyle that is something to be proud of, and what a lot of people did 100 years ago - working with their hands."

Dutchess Co FairCurrent vocations could be contrasted with past ones by visiting the Working Blacksmith Shop & Gas Powered Engine Show.  The website explains that fairgoers could "witness how work was done and things were made long before the robots were introduced to the workplace." 

Those who like to eat could mosey on over to the Working Sugar House and Cider Mill to witness that food doesn't always grow on trees (because it sometimes grows within trees).  Visitors were treated to maple-syrup and apple-pressing demonstrations, and children were especially encouraged to take part in the latter.

Those who like to eat were also treated to a panoply of enticing food choices.  There were not only hearty favorites such as Nick and Bennie's "fresh handmade burgers on the flame grill" and Butcher Boys' "sliced steak sandwiches" - but also traditional offerings from the Harvest Kitchen.  Imperati explained that the latter" is a kitchen we've set up, where we do demos  about food, and where celebrity chefs cook."

He added, "We want to educate people as to where their food comes from.  I'm always  amazed that people don't know what soybeans are used for other than protein for tofu.  There are a million uses for soybeans.  Corn, wheat and soybeans are the three largest agricultural commodities in the world today." 

Imperati continued, "And the swiss chard that people see at roadside stands?  It might look healthy, but people often just don't have a clue what to do with it."  That's where the Harvest Kitchen can really help - "with all kinds of seminars in there about local foods, what they can  be used for, and how they can be cooked."   

Speaking of agricultural produce, the Dutchess County Fair even provides an opportunity for folks to talk directly with vegetables (Dr. Doolittle, move over - The Talking Veggie Show has arrived on the scene).  So start planning in advance for 2014:  Are there any questions you have always harbored about cauliflower, but were too shy to ask?

Opportunities such as these are only as strong as the publicity that surrounds them.  Imperati has therefore done a bang up job of advertising the fair.  He explained, "We launched our own app this year - it's for iPhones and Android-based phones.  It was available for free, and you could download it.  It included an interactive map of the grounds and buildings, along with  links to our sponsors and Chamber of Commerce."

He added, "We're one of the only fairs that do food coupons.  They come in sheets of ten, and they're all worth a dollar.  You could buy a sheet of ten for eight bucks, and every vendor on the grounds has to accept them.  It's basically a 20% discount."

Imperati said that the 2013 gate price was $15 - "the same as the last four or five years."  You could also save three dollars by purchasing a presale ticket for $12.  He concluded, "We had a very good year.  Our attendance was up 6% over last year."

Corky Powers, Great American Midways once again provided the rides for the midway.  A few of the rides were pre-set but many make the jump directly from the Montgomery County Fair in Gaithersburg, Md., a long jump for the show but well worth the effort.

The fair team is already hard at work to improve traffic-flow patterns for 2014.  Imperati stated that their goal is "to get cars off of Route 9 more quickly than we currently do."  To that end, "the engineer has now finished up the plans, which include a service lane for exhibitors and special trucks that is separate from overall fair traffic."

The Dutchess County Fair is run by the Dutchess County Agricultural Society, Inc. - a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation.  Their overall budget this year has been 3.8 million, and Imperati estimates that "70 to 75% is for the fair."

Rip Van Winkle would certainly be shocked to see all of the current happenings within his sleepy old valley.  Why the Dutchess County Fair alone might be enough to get him off his  you-know-what and through the gate of Rhinebeck's annual wonderland.

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