By Sean Labombard.
Summer in New England—the temperature and humidity start to ramp up and, if you grew up here, it likely comes with some nostalgia. Often, the way we spent our childhood summers impacts how we choose to spend them as adults. Maybe it’s a visit to the Cape or Southern Maine that includes noshing on fresh seafood or the family camping trip filled with late-night campfires on a lake. Regardless of our favorite vacation spots, local traditions likely included a visit to the summer fair.
Fairs are common throughout New England. Native New Englanders likely remember getting excited the first time they saw the trucks pull into the fairground or caught a whiff of fried dough on a drive past. But unlike carnivals, where traveling troupes would set up shop, a fair is steeped in local tradition, with communities coming together to celebrate local business, agriculture, and entertainment. And while there are many fairs throughout New England, for those on the South Shore, there’s only one.
The Marshfield Fair has roots that date back to 1862 and will be returning on August 19 and running through 28 for a staggering 154th season, having only twice ever missed a season (COVID and WWII). What started as a yearly gathering amongst local farmers to discuss agriculture has transcended through decades into the traditional fair that still returns each year, and with it come all the traditional food offerings, rides, and vendors you would associate with any New England Fair. But what makes this fair different, than say, a traveling carnival, is it still celebrates its agrarian roots.
In 1865, 200 farmers brought and exhibited various products. So successful was this meeting, that the next year 9,000 people attended. Post-WWII, women became more involved with the inception of the Women’s Exchange leading to women exchanging crafts as well as holding cooking and baking contests. Now also including men, teens, and children, it’s one of the fair’s most popular events. In addition, post-War brought more 4-H, agricultural, and horticultural contests. Even today you can catch a glimpse of the hard-at-work Plymouth County 4-H Youth proudly showing off the culmination of their hard work with their animals at the fair.
The Fair itself is sponsored and run by the Marshfield Agricultural & Horticultural Society. The Society is the backbone of the Fair and boasts nearly 100 local members. In addition to running the Marshfield Fair, the Society continues to maintain a year-round farmers’ market that supports local farmers and businesses. “We are a nonprofit,” says Lorrie Dahlen, Manager of the Marshfield Farmers’ Market. “Our mission is to support and further local agriculture, horticulture, and the mechanical arts. And one way to do that is through the Fair.”
Among the many families who lend their time and energy to getting the Fair together every year are Lenny LaForest and his nephew Noel Powers. LaForest is the long-time Marshfield Fair President. LaForest and Powers, a member of the board overseeing business operations and vendors, are second and third-generation family members, respectively, who have been working on and contributing to the fair for over 50 years. Much like the Fair is steeped in tradition, Lenny and his family have been associated with the Fair since the 1950s, but as the times have progressed, they’re constantly looking to mix in some variety.
All the classics still make an appearance, but the families behind the scenes of the Fair are looking to add some newer elements.
“I think it’s getting to a balance,” says LaForest. While you can’t have a fair without the traditional offerings of fried dough and Italian sausage or the Ferris Wheel and other traditional rides, the families behind this Fair are looking to evolve and add more options.
“We’ve outlined our music area with local food trucks and tried to vary the offerings of types of food we have,” adds Powers. “I think it’s the old versus the new.” Powers has worked diligently with local vendors to create new offerings while ensuring local businesses are involved. Castle Island Brewery is a new addition to the beer offerings this year, adding one of their signature IPAs to the available beers at the Fair, while Augie’s Food Truck is returning to the “Food Truck Village” for its second stint, cooking up birria tacos and other modern options.
No matter what your interests are or where you’re located in New England, the generations of families, sponsors, and volunteers, many of whom have made being associated with the Fair their own tradition, work tirelessly to ensure the Marshfield Fair has something for everyone.
“Whether it’s the music or food or beer scene, the demo derby and the auto scene, arts and crafts, horticulture, farming and animals, the rides and the petting zoo… there really is something there for anyone,” says Powers. It truly is a labor of love; a tradition for those putting the fair together to allow others to create a tradition of attending what many in the South Shore see as the perfect way to cap off summer.
The Marshfield Fair
154th season, August 19th through August 28th, 2022
Marshfield Agricultural and Horticultural Society
Year-round Farmers’ Market
Sean Labombard is a freelance writer who enjoys exploring, eating, drinking, and experiencing everything that Worcester County has to offer. When he’s not writing, he spends his time reading, cooking, home-brewing, and spending time with his quickly growing family.