The Real America...
‘Karen and Jay share their enthusiasm and love for some great American pleasures – Food Trucks and County Fairs!’
In our everyday lives, it’s important to take time to enjoy the simple pleasures. And what could be better than Food Trucks and County Fairs? Either taken together – or separately, these two things are just pure fun.
From the time I was a little boy, going to the local, county, or even state fair has brought me immense joy. Immediately the smell of popcorn, cotton candy and especially the smell of fried dough, along with the sounds of music and people on amusement rides come to mind. Across the US, fairs have long been gatherings that bring people and communities together to celebrate the unique offerings that a town, region, or state have to offer. Not only that, they’re also incredible sources of commerce for local businesses, helping drive new connections that can drive growth and prosperity. Right here in New Hampshire, the Deerfield Fair, the Hopkinton Fair, and the Cornish Fair, among others – all bring thousands of visitors.
I’m reminded of a story I was once told by a farmer while I was on the road in the Midwest about just how formative and important fairs had been to his life. From a young age, state and county fairs were a mainstay in his family, namely because it was where they were able to do most of their business for the year and see many friends they typically only get to see once or twice a year. He shared how keeping their livestock healthy and fed throughout the year taught him some important, and sometimes hard lessons in responsibility. Not only that, but it taught him about the importance of community and how giving back actually helps pay it forward. Many of his longest relationships, dating back to when he was a child, started right there at his local county fair and the bonds they share continue to pay dividends, personally and professionally.
Whether you’re a food truck enthusiast, a thrill seeker, looking to learn more about how to get involved in your community, and more, fairs have been a resilient staple of American culture. In the advent of theme parks, resorts, and some of the other luxuries that have developed and evolved over the last hundred years, fairs have stood the test of time. A few years back when the state of California was facing a budget deficit, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to sell public fairgrounds as a means of raising much needed cash, yet public opposition was so strong his efforts ultimately didn’t succeed. Fairs offer a forum that not only creates opportunities for commerce, supporting farmers, restaurants, artists, and bringing in important revenue from fairgoers, but even more importantly, create life-long memories for families and friends that make life just a little bit sweeter.
The ‘New’ Ice Cream Truck - Food Trucks!
Food trucks have been making a significant impact in the state of New Hampshire and across the United States! Although food trucks have been around in one form or another for many years – starting with the Weiner Mobile by Oscar Meyer, and then the ice cream trucks of the 1950’s and ‘60’s – the food truck industry boom really came out of the 2008/9 Recession. That’s when many restaurants closed down, so unemployed chefs became overnight entrepreneurs, opening food trucks of all varieties. According to online statistics, the food truck industry in New Hampshire has seen continued steady growth over the past few years. The flexibility and mobility of food trucks make them a popular choice for both entrepreneurs and consumers.
There are over 23,000 food truck businesses in the United States, and the market size is estimated to be just under $1.5 billion. Gone are the days of the stigma of the so-called “Street Meat” and canteen vibe when people think of food trucks. Today, food trucks are in so much popular demand that they are popping up everywhere, allowing people in small and large communities to experience cuisines they have never tasted before!
The rave for food trucks has resulted in festivals being organized all across the country and right here in New England. Just this past year, Food Truck festivals took place in Milford, Portsmouth, and many more communities across the region. Maybe it’s the quick service, the innovation, a sense of convenience, or a casual atmosphere that creates a fanbase for their culinary delights. The Food Truck vibe is great and something that is really cool. And now it’s a year-round (365 days a year) business!
During the ski season, it's not uncommon for a food truck to be at the base of a local ski hill or at some great spots around ski regions; one, in particular, is Henniker Brewing Company, which is owned by my good friend Dave Currier. The Brewery is just moments away from Pats Peak, and on any given weekend, it's not uncommon to see a food truck serving up some home-cooked goodness to warm your soul after a day on the slopes. Another food truck and catering company I recently came across is 603BBQ. Owned and operated by New Hampshire native Josh Hilliard, this amazing mobile kitchen is serving up some of the tastiest BBQ and smash burgers around. He is even taking orders for smoked meats and unique side dishes for this Thanksgiving. Josh is a young man with a great family who is truly following his dreams.
As you know, bringing people together is a big part of who I am and what I try to do. Furthermore, I love it when entrepreneurs think outside the box to follow their dreams and passions. Food truck owners do just that. They are taking the risk, creating opportunity, rallying around something they believe in, and making a difference in the communities they serve. Plus delivering a great product that creates happiness and joy. Kudo’s to the food truck industry. While some may say sticking a fork in something means,’ the end,’ in the food world, it’s just the beginning of something awesome!
There’s Nothing Better than New England County Fairs!
County fairs are quintessential events for communities around the state. There are about a dozen fairs scattered throughout New Hampshire, starting from mid-July, and extending through the month of October.
Despite the fact that fairs often attract visitors for music, tourism, food, and rides, many of them still embrace their agricultural heritage based upon deep-rooted traditions. For youth programs such as 4-H who showcase their animals and the tractor clubs participating in competitions, there is no shortage of agricultural promotion. The skills learned through these events at fairs last a lifetime.
In addition, these county fairs bring the community together through volunteerism and outreach. For several organizations, this is a major fundraising opportunity during the year. So, when you get your burger from the snowmobile club, it goes towards a good cause, and the food is excellent as well. The smell of hot sausage sandwiches or apple cider donuts permeate the air along with giant donuts, fried pickles and of course - cotton candy!
Fairs are also a time for craftsmen to showcase their work in competitions. From the amateur baker to the skilled woodcarver, this is their chance to display their skills. There are also horse shows and riding competitions as well as horse pulling and animals of all kinds, both big and small. And speaking of big - giant pumpkins and gourds can be found with some even breaking world records!
Fairs are renowned for being family-friendly, especially county fairs in New Hampshire. There's something for everyone, from the little kiddie rides to the late-night country music shows. Most of these fairs are run by volunteer organizations, who work year-round to ensure they are the best of the best by the time the gates open. The New Hampshire and Vermont Fair Associations are responsible for ensuring that everything is in order and share the best practices of their community-oriented events.
Although the leaves have started to fall, and many of the fairs have wrapped up for the year, the memories of family fun and food enjoyment last throughout the year.
Positive Profile of the Week: Gene Cassidy – The ‘Big E’ Man!
This week we are delighted to highlight a true New England leader in the ‘county fair’ and volunteer sector – Gene Cassidy. Born and raised in West Springfield, Massachusetts, Gene Cassidy grew up with the Eastern States Exposition (ESE) in his backyard.
With over a 107-year tradition, the ESE, fondly known as the Big E, is the largest fair in New England and the 4th largest fair in the United States. The fair represents all six of the New England states and has approximately a million and a half people attending the fair annually during the 17 days it is open in late September.
Starting his career as a public accountant, Gene became the CFO of the fair in 1992, then later the CEO in 2012. He is responsible to the board of trustees, which is a collection of trustees from the six states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Gene not only represents the food and fun as the CEO but also ensures the agricultural roots that the fair was built on are kept alive. The fair started as a location for cattle shows to be brought back from the Midwest to New England and to showcase the best practices of agriculture. The fair then grew to add tourism, music, rides, and food. The fairgrounds are operational year-round for conferences, festivals, and shows.
Gene has a generous heart, and truly embracing the excitement of going to a fair, he has given support to the youth organizations that present at the fair. He spends most of his time as CEO promoting the fair and the best of the New England states nationally and internationally, recently becoming the Chair of the International Association of Fairs and Expos.
He even connected the “sister city” of Dingle, Ireland, to West Springfield, Mass., to promote its Irish craftsmanship to the region due to the high Irish population in the West Springfield area.
If you make your way to the Big E, you will most likely see him roaming the fairground, greeting guests and vendors at the best fair in New England. Thanks, Gene, for keeping alive a fall tradition that’s been enjoyed by millions for over a century! Check out the Big E at www.easternstatesexposition.com.
Quotes of the Week: The Real America – Food Trucks and County Fairs
"County fairs are the heart and soul of the real America, where generations gather to celebrate the simple joys of life." – Unknown "In small-town America, the county fair is more than just an event; it's a time-honored tradition that brings communities together." - John Smith "Food trucks are the culinary pioneers of the real America, offering a taste of diversity and innovation on every street corner." - Sarah Davis "At a county fair, you can experience the authentic charm of America, where hard work, creativity, and the joy of simple pleasures shine." - Mark Johnson "Food trucks are like mobile melting pots, serving up a fusion of flavors that reflect the rich tapestry of cultures that make up the real America." - Maria Gonzalez "County fairs are where the spirit of rural America thrives, where you can witness the craftsmanship, agriculture, and community bonds that define our nation." - Laura Roberts "Food trucks epitomize the American dream, where entrepreneurs turn passion into delicious reality, one dish at a time." - Robert Anderson