For almost 100 years, The Big E has highlighted New England agriculture, livestock and produce. Since 1917, this Fair has hosted agricultural competitions and displays, following the vision of Joshua L. Brooks, founder of Eastern States Exposition. Well over one million people visit New England’s Grandest Fair enjoying its 4-H and FFA demonstrations, exotic animal rides and petting zoo. Teens and families return year after year for the midway rides, live entertainment, and naughty foods.
Agricultural Shows and Competitions
The Mallary Agricultural Complex hosts most livestock shows and competitions. Visitors can walk among hundreds of dairy, beef and sheep. Families can see farmers shearing sheep and grooming their cows and watch sheepdog herding demonstrations. Most of the livestock shows and competitions are during the first week or 10 days of the fair. For a detailed Daily Schedule, see here.
Next door, Farm-A-Rama building features special exhibits on Agriculture in Our Daily Lives. Visitors can search for the queen bee in a demo hive and learn the critical roles of bees in our food supply. Chickens hatch in a giant incubator room and quickly become fluffy mobile chicks. Visitors of any age can milk Lucy, the model Holstein. A Healthy Cow Exhibit sponsored by the Massachusetts Dairy Promotion Board explains the care and well-being of dairy cows.
The Hallamore Clydesdales join daily parades around the fairgrounds. Families visit these majestic animals in their Farm-A-Rama stalls.
Agricultural exhibits in the Mallary Complex include a Singing Refrigerator, sponsored by the New England Dairy Promotion Board. Every year artists create a giant butter sculpture with 600 pounds of butter donated by the Agrimark/Cabot Creamery and sponsored by the Massachusetts Dairy Farmers.
The Milking Parlor allows visitor to watch milking or a video on New England dairy farm life. Visitors can taste fresh, delicious milk at the Dairy Bar in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or as a thick “jetshake!”
At The Big E, 4-H Beef Auction students reap the rewards of their time and investments. Last year over 30 4-H Beef Steers were exhibited and sold at The Big E. The 2013 Beef Auction is September 23. All proceeds go to the exhibitors. Income often purchases their next 4-H Beef Project animal. Many 4-H exhibitors use proceeds for college expenses.
4-H & FFA
Over 900 Future Farmers of America (FFA) competitors from 20 states submitted contest entries in landscape vignettes, flower arrangements or produce. Creative arts competitions included baking, quilting, knitting and cake decorating.
Over 2,500 4-H’ers aged 12 to 18 from six New England states participated in Dairy, Beef Cattle, Dairy Goat, Sheep, Dog and Horse competitions. 4-H groups also presented their projects in the New England Center and on the Farm-A-Rama Stage. 4-H activity participants stay at The Big E dormitory.
The nearby Coliseum hosts the A-rated Championship Horse show, Hunters & Jumpers, Hunt Seat Equitation, USHJA Zone 1 HOTY Finals, Saddlebreds, Hackneys, Morgans, Friesians, Draft Horse Show and Horse Pull competitions.
Christmas Trees & Wreaths
Getting people in the mood for Christmas early, Christmas trees growers and wreath makers competed in the New England Christmas Tree Growers’ exhibit. Competitors from across New England competed in classes for Pine, Spruce, Fir, Grand Champion, Reserve Grand Champion, State Champions as well as Undecorated and Decorated Wreaths.
Wine & Cheese
For the sixth year, visitors sampled Northeast Gold Wine Competition winning wines. Nearly 50 wineries competed. Attendees also enjoyed free samples of New England cheeses from the Gold Medal Cheese Competition. The cheese competition, open to all New England commercial and artisanal cheese makers, had over 140 entries. Samples were available in the expanded Wine and Cheese Shoppe near the Mallary Agricultural complex by the main entrance gate. For a list of winning wines, see here and cheeses here.
Fair Foods & Drinks
The Big E’s signature “The Big Éclair” and “The Big E Cream Puff” and “Craz-E Burger” (bacon cheeseburger sandwiched between two halves of a glazed donut) are always in high demand. The fair offers a diverse blend of foods from nearly 150 vendors. There is plenty of traditional fair fare like fried dough, cotton candy, kettle corn and candy apples. Special dinners might include a delicious Pulled Pork Parfait, traditional corn dog, rich chocolate-covered bacon or decadent burger sandwiched between Belgian waffles with a deep-fried pickle on the side. Dessert could be rich soft ice cream-filled donuts, maple cotton candy or even deep-fried Oreos. The local fire and rescue department offers three hot meals daily, cafeteria-style.
Plenty of beverages choices are available at The Big E including healthy fruit smoothies, local, Irish and German beers and even martinis. Kids can enjoy sodas, energy drinks and bottled water.
Every day at The Big E celebrates a northeast state, town or 4-H, FFA, Granges or Special Olympics. Military Appreciation Day featured a performance by the USO Show Troup. See the full schedule here.
Avenue of States
Each New England state built a life-size replica of their original statehouse. Inside are displays with visitor information staffed by Tourism offices, Chambers of Commerce and volunteers. Representative vendors offer state specialties like Maine’s Wild Blueberry pie and baked potatoes, Rhode Island’s clam chowder and quahogs, Massachusetts’ lobster and cranberries, New Hampshire’s maple syrup and Vermont’s Cabot Cheese. Connecticut features a LEGO display and shop. The houses also feature agricultural and state park displays.
For general information on The Big E’s agricultural competitions, exhibits and demonstrations, see here, contact the Livestock Office at 413-205-5011, the Agriculture Information Desk at 413-205-5196 or send an email.
The Big E runs the second and third weeks of September (include three weekends) on the 175-acre fairgrounds at 1305 Memorial Avenue (Route 147), West Springfield, MA 01089. Learn more here or contact the main office at 413-737-2443. General information is available by calling 413-205-5115. For ticket information, call the Box Office at 413-205-5049.
A similar story was featured on the cover of the September 30, 2013 Northeast edition of Country Folks.