By Sean Meyer
There was a time when people knew exactly where the food on their dinner plate came from. After all, they grew and prepared most of it themselves.
Today, for most urbanites, this is no longer the case as connection to their agricultural roots has practically disappeared. Sheila Johnson, executive director Fanshawe Pioneer Village, is determined to remind people of that lost agricultural heritage.
“People need to understand the origin of food. There is a big disconnect between the growers and the eaters,” Johnson said. “It used to be there was a very close connection. You had a garden, you grew your food and preserved your food. You knew how to raise food in order to benefit your table.”
Reminding people of that connection is just one of the reasons the village has been hosting the annual Fanshawe Agricultural Fair for the past 15 years. This year’s fair takes place at the village from Aug. 20-21.
“Today there is that disconnect. There isn’t an understanding of where this food comes from. What the labour involved is. What local food is?” Johnson said. “That is very important for people to understand, where does it come from, how is it being produced? That is part of the story we tell here.”
Johnson said the mandate of Fanshawe Pioneer Village is to preserve the rural history of London and Middlesex County. It is a mandate she takes seriously.
“Our rural history is vanishing from the landscape,” Johnson said. “And that history is important, it became the foundation of the success of southwestern Ontario.”
The Fanshawe fair, Johnson said, recreates a typical, rural Ontario, 19th century festival. Fairs in this time served many purposes. They almost always featured some kind of exhibitions, including equipment displays and crop, garden and domestic competitions.
“You had the best hay, the largest cow. You had your jams and jellies and handicrafts too. It was a social activity. The community got together to celebrate the harvest,” Johnson said. “That tradition of celebrating the harvest, of having a celebration to prepare for the coming winter, that evolved into your 19th century fairs. They were important times, time to celebrate and time to learn. And they were for sales as well; they existed for commercial purposes too.”
A focal point of the Fanshawe fair will be the threshing demonstration. Something not a lot of people have experienced, the threshing demonstration is something Johnson said will help link people to the region’s agricultural past.
The village includes 22 acres of farmland that is planted, tilled and harvested using horsepower and pre-1950 tractors and equipment.
“You can see horse and tractor teams working in the fields; you will see wagons being loaded; you will see the threshing machine operated. You will see the whole process of how the grain was processed in the 19th century,” Johnson said. “For most urban people, they don’t understand it. Our rural history isn’t just objects, (like) the threshing machines or horse-drawn equipment. It is also buildings and the way of life. How did you thresh a grain crop? You can’t understand that from looking at a threshing machine. The only way to understand that is by looking at it in action.”
As with any fair, there will also be a good deal of music and dance. There will be fair displays, animal exhibitions and a large sampling of homemade foods and handmade products.
In addition, on Saturday at 1 p.m., the village will announce three major funders who have stepped up to contribute to the long-planned Spriet Centre, which will serve a variety of purposes, including housing administration offices and proper storage areas for artifacts and equipment.
For more information, visit www.fanshawepioneervillage.ca/events/fanshawe-agricultural-fair.