Why Crozet? is a monthly column that discusses the reasons people choose to live in Crozet. Although the region is experiencing tremendous growth, it is still home to many people with the important skills that allowed families to thrive. We’re celebrating these skills at the Albemarle County Fair, now underway after a two-year pandemic break.
There was a time when families lived or died according to their ability to get enough food from a patch of rocky ground, or make warm duvets from scraps and feathers, or keep their livestock healthy and strong. However, survival was not the only goal. The rural arts embody a moving testament to the human thirst for beauty and achievement. The men and women who mastered these skills also ensured that the fruits of their labors were pleasing to the eye, their baked goods delicious, their handiwork skillful, and all that compare favorably with the coals, furniture, and goats. of the family on the next farm.
Now taking place in James Monroe’s Highland, the Albemarle County Fair celebrates these ancient arts and our local harvest. It also provides a bit of inspiration for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of what to grow for themselves, said Trisha Costello, the show’s chief gardener coordinator. “We want people to consider growing their own food and see what’s possible,” she said. For years, Costello helped with the vegetable garden at Innisfree, and she has seen firsthand the wonder and satisfaction of new gardeners with their first products.
Costello has also always loved the new vegetables. She’s seen her fair share of fun-shaped tomatoes, deep purple potatoes, and huge cabbages. “Entwined carrots that look like they’re hugging are always a hit,” she said.
There is, of course, more to celebrate than just vegetables. Sharon Helt has imported African violets, sunflowers, cross stitch crafts, floral arrangements and honey as products over the years. She promoted the idea to her sons, Matthew and Mark, and between them, the family has grown bushels of tomatoes and watermelons, raised chickens and pigs, woven baskets and embraced photography, and the best examples have all ended up at the fair.
Matthew may have been a little over the top with his love of gardening, she said. “He once planted 90 tomato plants and we ended up selling them to local restaurants.” To prepare for a stint in the Peace Corps, he brought home five pigs and 26 chickens so he could see firsthand what they needed to survive. He still manages a large garden on the family property at the end of St. George Avenue. “The problem is,” his mother said, “we have to water them when he’s not around.”
As a kid, Matthew sold the honest judges by having a kid help judge the junior baked-good entries. They accommodated the ambitious boy, and his mother was proud, although she said there may have been a bit of a sugar crash after that.
Mark introduced the family to bees, whose honey is judged on both taste and appearance, and the hives are still producing.
None of this was accidental, Helt said. “I wanted my sons to know where their food came from and they could be the ones to grow it,” she said. “And after they grew up, I always tried to come up with something to come in. I want to support what the fair does for the community.”
Alice Scruby remembered going to the fair as a child. “We were a rural household, so our gardens were a big deal,” she said. Like the Helts, she became fascinated with bees and honey and added beekeeping to her list of skills. She has a young granddaughter who has submitted artwork, and the whole family found the experience rewarding.
Scruby’s annual crop includes flowers, honey and vegetables, and she always tries to participate in the fair. “I am a passionate gardener,” she said. “If people like me don’t support the fair, who will?”
The Albemarle County Fair is in James Monroe’s Highland. It is open Thursday, August 4 from 4 to 9 p.m.; Friday, August 5, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, August 6, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The animal auction at the market is Saturday at 2 p.m. For a full schedule, visit albemarlecountyfair.com.