The Grange Fair

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For much of the last century, Grange fairs were an important part of rural agricultural life, an opportunity for isolated farm families to gather to exchange information, showcase livestock and socialize. Many evolved into large encampments that became extended reunions going for days or a week at a time.

"THE GRANGE FAIR: AN AMERICAN TRADITION," broadcast on ___________ at ___________ , chronicles a vanishing piece of Americana, one of the last remaining agricultural encampment Grange fairs in the country. Now in it’s 131st year, the week-long Centre County Grange Fair in Pennsylvania boasts a small city of almost a thousand residential tents and a fleet of 1,300 recreational vehicles. Thousands of people attend to join family reunions, enjoy the midway and watch the competitions. Produced by Penn State Public Broadcasting, the 90-minute documentary features some of the families who spend months preparing for this unique American phenomena.

Originally conceived in 1874 as a one-day picnic to introduce rural farmers and their families to the Grange organization, the Centre County Grange Fair grew to become, as did other Grange fairs, a social highlight of the year and main point of information exchange for rural agricultural communities.

In addition to possessing some of the trappings of a conventional county fair — agricultural vendors, livestock and produce competitions, food, rides and live performances, the Centre County Grange Fair boasts a small city of nearly one thousand 14-foot square, military-style canvas platform tents. Reserved and highly prized, many tent sites have been in the same family since tents were introduced to the fair in 1888. Families bring everything including the kitchen sink to set up residence for a week. New participants wishing to tent at the fair must sign up for the waiting list. The current list has over 600 names on it; on average only two tent spaces open per year.

For many participants, the fair and its competitions mark the culmination of months of work raising animals, growing produce, cooking and baking. "THE GRANGE FAIR: AN AMERICAN TRADITION" captures the stories of adolescents and adults, and the drama of those final nail-biting moments in which a year of work goes before the judges.

The stories from the Grange Fair touch young and old. Michelle Carbonara is a nine-year-old whose registered Holstein wins the blue ribbon in a final dramatic moment. Alisha McClellan, a 14-year old from a small town, wakes up before sunrise to feed the pigs she keeps at a friend’s farm before going to school. She has spent the year raising them for competition at the Grange Fair. Ruth Wolf, at 86, has missed the fair only once in her entire life and that was to have a baby. Joe Hartle wakes to tend to his dairy cows before going off to a meeting to help plan the fair, as he has for the last 50 years. Seventy-year-old Martha Dietrich stays up nights baking fresh creations for the days of competition -- her husband shuttling her goods to the fair each morning.

The competition for tent design results in fantasy castles and toyshops surrounding a square of canvas. Betsy Forsythe is laboring in her garage to complete her massive tent design by fair time. She’s often taken second place in the tent contest, but this may be her year to win.

"THE GRANGE FAIR: AN AMERICAN TRADITION" is a production of Penn State Public Broadcasting. Partial funding is from the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs and the Pennsylvania Public Television Network (PPTN). Producer/director is Joe Myers. Co-writer and editor is Greg Feinberg. Co-executive producers are Tracy Vosburgh and Tom Keiter and original music is by Ted McCloseky. The documentary won a Silver Screen Award in the 38th Annual International Film and Video Festival and a Bronze Award in the 2004 Telly Awards. The program is distributed by PBS Plus.

Other nationally-distributed programs on PBS produced by Penn State Public Broadcasting include "Small Ball: A Little League Story" and the first series of "Legendary Lighthouses." Penn State Public Broadcasting is licensed to The Pennsylvania State University.

Contact for PSPB:
Carol Wonsavage
(814) 865-3333