The Gifts Of Addison County Field Days
By Cookie Steponaitis
photo by providedLucien and great-grandsons!
photo by providedTwins Brantley & Bentley are all smiles and will see you and Great-Grandpa Lucien at ACFD.
For those who have grown up outside Addison County it might appear that there is a great deal of hubbub around a county fair. After all it is animals, rides, music and fun, right? Correct and yet it is so much more. Addison County Field Days is a celebration of a way of life, thinking and work ethic that is passed like a treasured heirloom from generation to generation which is evident in the Paquette family and the number of generations that will be present as Field Days opens its doors for the 2017 season.
Lucien Paquette is a member of the Farmer’s Hall of Fame and will turn 101 this year and celebrate with his twin great-grandsons Brantley and Bentley with events ranging from Demolition Derby to Lucien’s beloved hand mowing contest which he started in 1978. Lucien and Loretta Paquette were married in 1945 and raised their twelve children Dennis, Judy, Nancy, Stephen, Francis, Gary, Thomas, Michael, David, Barbara, Rene and Janice in Addison County where they grew up learning about the farming way of life. At the center of the Paquette household was their father’s position with the UVM Extension Service and his passion for teaching and educating people about the newest and best techniques in agriculture.
Using the newspaper and radio to get the farming word out, Lucien did a daily radio program on WFAD and a weekly news column. “I wanted to reach the most people with the most information possible,” remarked Paquette. From that vantage point came the birth of Addison County Fair & Field Days (ACFFD). “Craftsbury used to have a one-day agricultural fair when I was growing up,” explained Paquette. “My mother gave me a whole quarter and told me to go to the fair. She absolutely loved Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum which was 5 cents. I went to the fair and bought her a package and came home with all the change.”
Paquette knew he was in a supportive community and found ways to reach out to farmers and everyone who came through about the quality of Addison County Farm Products. “There was a period of time where we had 4X8 signs that read ‘Entering Addison County Land of Milk & Honey’ and we would post them,” chuckled Paquette. Searching for a way to teach and reach the next generation, Paquette went back to the agricultural fair format and in 1948 opened up the first Addison County Field Days with the help of two other federal agencies and UVM Extension people Leona Thompson and Harriet Proctor. “It was a two-day event,” shared Paquette, “and it all took place in one tent one hundred feet long on a farm on Munger Street in Middlebury. We would work to find farmers interested in letting us host the fair on their land and then go about the set up. Remember part of demonstrating farming was digging ponds, plowing and demonstrating the latest in equipment which in 1948 included a hay crusher and the beginnings of freezing poultry.” It would surprise most readers to know that for four years in the 1950’s the fair was actually held on the grounds of the UVM Morgan Horse Farm which Paquette was in charge of as half of his responsibilities for UVM.
While Brantley and Bentley are too young to understand all they will see this year, they are nonetheless becoming a part of the Field Days tradition and will get to watch their great-grandfather spend time doing what he loves best. There are cow shows to watch, Demolition Derby to yell for, horses to ride in shows, sheep, ox pulling, tractor pulls and events for young and old. Most importantly stories will be told, handshakes made and under the warmth of a Vermont sun a celebration of life and longevity will begin. So bring your family, your neighbors or simply show up, as will most of the county and thousands from outside the state. Addison County Fair & Field Days is only a week but it is one that lingers in the mind and heart until the next year.