BALLSTON SPA — Standing under a freshly built barn at the Saratoga County Fair, hay spread across a concrete floor behind him, state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball spoke to the importance of county fairs statewide.
“One percent of our population feeds 99 percent — 1 percent of us are actually in agriculture — but it’s at these fairs that we have an opportunity to come face to face, and connect the dots, between our great agriculture, our young people in agriculture and the population that we serve,” he said.
On the other side of the high-rise barn, Christine Arnold sat behind a 16-month-old heifer that was basking in the sun while her young daughter, Grace, gave the dairy cow’s belly a rub.
“If one of the local dairy farms sees Able and they think she looks good, guess what? Maybe they might want to buy a calf,” said Arnold, who owns Arnoldeyre Farm in Gansevoort with her husband, John.
Ball was speaking during the ribbon-cutting for a new 7,200-square-foot dairy and beef cow showroom, which doubled as the opening ceremony of the fair’s 176th season, which runs through Sunday.
“The longstanding traditions in agricultural and rural America are alive and well, right here in Saratoga at this fair,” Ball said.
The new facility was funded by a $96,000 grant, part of $5 million awarded through a new program meant to support infrastructure improvements related to agriculture at county fairs statewide.
“This was the first time in nearly a decade that local county fairs got some funding, and some help, from the state,” said Ball, crediting Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, and Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, for securing the funds in the state budget. “This year, we have another $5 million to do the same thing.”
Chuck Curtiss, board president for the Saratoga County Fair, said the show barn replaces a temporary tent and provides for better presentation of animals, noting that exhibitors can set up on the solid floor rather than on dirt.
The building will also be rented out for other events at the fairgrounds, he said, naming political rallies and retirement parties as examples.
“When these barns are all cleared out, you wouldn’t even know they’re cow barns,” he said. “It’s a multi-use building. Our No. 1 purpose is for what we do with the fair, but it also can make us money the rest of the year.”
Bill Dake, board chairman for Stewart’s Shops, said it’s great to see the core values of farming remain at the fair, which the new facility shows.
“Sometimes they get so entertainment driven, we forget the basic nature,” he said.
Dake said it takes 4,500 cows to make the milk and ice cream sold at Stewart’s every day.
There are 150 cows at this year’s county fair — about 190 dairy and 60 beef, according to Curtiss.
“We have some of the best farms anywhere in the country … and that is a fact,” he said.