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Hello all. A week ago, I attended the Thunderbird Mid-Summer Pow Wow which takes place at the end of July at the Queens County Farm Museum. I have been coming to this place, and the associated Green Meadows Farm Petting Zoo (which I originally thought was part of the QCFM, but later learned that it’s an entirely separate organization) ever since I was in pre-school. Chances are if you went to pre-school or elementary school here in Queens, New York, that around October you came to this place for some pumpkin picking. I enjoy coming here for the special events that they host, and among them is the yearly gathering of the Indian tribes from across the Americas to represent and honor their heritage – from Canada to Ecuador, and everywhere in between.
As a historian specializing in tribal cultures from ancient times to modern times, I feel that behooves me to come to events like this as often as I can in order to keep up my credibility as a historian and quasi-anthropologist. Also, I just love coming here purely for it’s own sake – I greatly enjoy coming to this place, I enjoy the “rendezvous” like atmosphere, and of course, I love the music and the dances. The food isn’t bad either!
The pow wow was a three-day event, and I arrived on saturday July 30. The weather was forecasted to be pretty bad that weekend, and on Friday, the first day of the festivities, it poured. When I arrived on Saturday, the sky was gray and heavy, and there were warnings that there would be occassional showers throughout the day.
Although it’s called a “museum” the QCFM is working farm where they grow crops and raise livestock. In fact, it is the last fully-operational farm left in all of Queens County. It’s a large place, and the pow wow events were confined to the front portion of the farm where the gate and most of the buildings are. The center and rear of the farm were pretty isolated, aside from a few farm workers and some families looking at the animals in their pens.
I enjoy walking amidst the gardens and crop fields. As I’ve said in previous posts on this blog, although I’ve lived my whole life in the city, I’ve always been more of a country person at heart, and this place allows me a certain amount of escapism.
Just beyond the gardens is the cornfield. they grow the corn in the form of a maze which is then enjoyed by the children during autumn. When I was there, the corn stalks were five and a half feet high, up to my chin.
You’re probably expecting me to post pictures of the pow wow celebrations, but I deliberately took NO pictures of this. The dancers, musicians, and story-tellers that were present here have strong feelings about having their pictures being taken. Remember, these people are not tourist attractions. They are people deserving of respect, and I felt that it would not be appropriate to be snapping pictures of people when they don’t want to be photographed. Besides, in this age when everyone who attends a concert records it on their smartphone rather than sitting back and enjoying the show, I am adamant in not allowing technology to get in the way of an immersive sensory experience. So, no photos. Don’t like that? Tough.
On Sunday, October 5, I attended the annual Applefest for the first time. This is a massive fair that is held in the town of Warwick (established in the late 1700s), Orange County, New York. I was informed that it was one of the biggest autumn festivals in the entire Northeast, with a projected attendance of somewhere around 35,000 people. My parents and I had a lovely ride through the rural hilly forest-covered countryside of lowerstate New York (I hate using the phrase “downstate” because it sounds depressing). As I stated in a previous post, I’m a country boy at heart, and I love to get out of the damned city at every opportunity, especially to experience “old time” things like quaint fall and country festivals.
Despite my very limited finances, I had a feeling that I would be spending an inordinately high amount of money there. At country fairs, things tend to be slightly on the expensive side. Local craftsmen and farmers need to sell their wares, and with many of them feeling the pinch from economically bad times, they need to adjust their prices higher to make up for things.
When we got there, which was at around 10:30 AM (only a half-hour after the fair opened), the place was already jammed. I was surprised how popular the fair was in both senses of the word. I was told to expect a large crowd, but I wasn’t prepared for this. There were at least 7,000 or 8,000 people when we got there, and the crowds kept increasing every minute. Almost immediately, I spotted various stands for things. They were giving pony rides to small children, the local town fire department had set up a barbecue, and there was a stand for adopting ex-racing greyhounds – they seemed to enjoy a more relaxed laid back lifestyle than the hectic energetic one that they had previously pursued. Next to this was a stand selling spices and varieties of olive oils. In the energetic spirit of the moment, and with a fervent desire to help local communities and craftsmen, I bought three different bottles: Italian herb, sun-dried tomato, and spicy pepper.
The Applefest was not just about apples, despite its name. Certainly, all things apple-related played a big part in it, but the stands were for far more: food stands, craft vendors, and environmental/community awareness booths talking out things like solar energy, banning plastic bags, and animal adoption. On top of all this, seemingly everybody in the town decided to have a yard sale!
I had many good experiences here, but at the top of the list was when I got to make apple cider myself, which was something that I had never done before. I have an immense unquenchable thirst for knowledge, especially pertaining to things that I regard as from the past, and I tried to get as much information as I could. I first began by carefully studying the construction of the portable press, which was about the size of a bicycle, and took a few pictures just to have a reference – I am determiend to get one of these things for myself, if I should ever be so lucky as to have my own farm somewhere. I also carefully watched the press in operation. I had a wonderful conversation with a teenager (at least I assume he was a teenager) named Rafael about the process of making apple cider. He told me that it takes about 40 pounds of apples to make one gallon of apple cider, and that you can make your cider of a specific flavor depending on the apple variety (some are sugary sweet while others are tart). Then came the best part – I got to help him. I started by tossing the apples into the hopper. The hopper is connected to a turbine, which is connected to a wheel-crank. The operator turns the crank, which turns the turbine, which crushes the apples. The crushed bits then fall out of a hole in the underside and down into an awaiting bucket. The buckets are not whole – they have large slats cut into the side so that the juice can escape when being pressed. Make sure that the bucket is lined with a mesh cloth! Not only does it prevent the apple bits from being squeezed out through the bucket slats, it also makes cleaning the bucket a lot easier, and you can carry the shredded apple chunks away like they’re in a bag. After I acted as the shoveler, so to speak, I acted as the presser. The bucket was placed underneath a large cast-iron screw with four spike-shaped handles on the top, and there was a circular wooden board underneath the screw, unattached. After the bucket of apple pulp was placed under the screw press, the mesh bag that the pulp was in was folded over, completely covering the apple pulp – this is to prevent the apple chunks from sticking to the underside of the board. Then, the board was placed over the pulp, lined up directly underneath the screw. Then, start turning! You have to make sure that you don’t turn too much, otherwise you’ll break open the bucket. As I turned the screw, which was easy at first but got to be rather hard work, I observed the tan-orange cider juice coming out of the slats, traveling a short distance down a decline and out of a drainage hole. Underneath the hole was a steel pot, collecting the juice. I helped Rafael out a coule of times with the process as the people watched us. I shook his sticky hand with my sticky hand and thanked him for all of the information that he gave me and for allowing me to participate. He smiled and gave me a free cup of cider for my work.
I love it when youth become involved in these sort of things. I’m noticing a greater interest among young people in “getting back to the land” and focusing more on simple things. First, I had a great talk with a student from VVS High School about the process of making maple syrup, and now this. I really want more young people to get involved in agrarian pursuits and having a greater appreciation for home-grown local produce.
We made our way through even further. The fair wasn’t limited to just one street – it seemed that half of the town had been converted for the Applefest. Along every street were food venders, craft vendors, and social awareness booths. I had talks with a person who made bows and arrows, a person who made fudge, and another person who represented a group that wanted plastic bags to be banned in the town of Warwick. I was rather moved by that, and I am contemplating starting a similar organization in my home town of Flushing.
After having some hamburgers made for us by the Warwick Fire Department, we looked around for a little bit more, and then decided to head back home. We left at 1:00 PM, and the traffic leading up to Warwick was backed up bumper-to-bumper for miles. By the time that we left, there had to have been at least 30,000 people there, and they were still coming in! Along the road, I passed by the barn of a nearby farm, and painted on the side were the words “LOCAL = GOOD”. I absolutely agree.
I had a great time. I heartily recommend visiting the Warwick Applefest at least once in your life. Certainly, it’s a must if you live in lowerstate New York. I’m already thinking about going back next year.
I have a great love of the peaceful pastoral countryside. I love quaint farms and orchards, forests, rocky tree-covered hills and crags, glistening rivers, and small crumbling waterfalls. I take every chance that I can get to visit places like this. I especially love it if the scenery in question contains old colonial-style buildings with that musty smokey smell which is my personal high – I absolutely love the smell of a wood-burning fireplace. I get excited whenever I go out to the eastern end of Long Island or up north past the Five Boroughs, because I feel a greater sense of freedom, relaxation, and a feeling of internal peace. Although I am a denizen of New York City, I am much more of a country boy at heart than a city slicker.
Because of this, I love it when there are what I could call “folk-ish” places, where there are a lot of the old-time practices. I like visiting colonial farms and regional celebrations, like apple festivals and seasonal fairs. One of these which I like to visit is the annual Queens County Fair, held at the Queens County Farm Museum. This is the oldest continuously-operating farm in all of New York State, dated to 1697. Located next door is the Green Meadows Farm Petting Zoo, which (at least according to my generation) was an obligatory field trip for all children between the ages of 3 to 10. You can find out more about the Queens County Farm Museum by clicking on the link here.
I’ve had this fair marked on my calendar for a long time, and I was very eager when I went to it yesterday on Saturday, September 20.
The Queens County Fair is a typical county fair, the sort of event that I imagine taking place amidst more rural surroundings. You have food vendors, rides, contests, bands playing, performances, and advertisers. The highlight of my day was having a wonderful conversation with a high school student from upstate about the process of making maple syrup. Some may read this and go “Huh? How could you be excited about that?”. Believe me, it absolutely made my day.
The fair is held every September. If you live in Queens or the general New York City area, I highly encourage you to come to this fair the next chance you get – the pig race this year drew a very large crowd (yes, they have pig races – awesome). The fair is usually held in late September around the autumnal equinox. Bring lots of money with you – I guarantee you’ll be spending it.
The Queens County Farm Museum has and hosts events throughout the year. The next one coming up is the Kickoff to Fall, formerly called the Apple Festival, held in early October. Check the museum website for more details and a full calendar.
I had an absolutely great time there, a welcome and relieving change of pace from where I live and how I live. Some people like living in the bustling big city, but I don’t. I’m a country boy, and I need to live in the country. I don’t want to live in NYC anymore. I’ll go to the Queens County Fair every year as long as I am able to do so.