September and October are the perfect months for country fairs throughout Central New York. The cooler breezes, the chilly night air, and the changing color of the leaves always seem to announce the coming of “festival season” …and I couldn’t be more excited!
I am particularly excited about this year’s Little Falls Cheese Festival, set for Saturday, October 1st. I have been a part of the planning committee since the festival’s inception and every year it seems to get bigger and better. (Plus, I get to work with a passionate, creative crew that cares deeply about cheese—the ultimate bonus!)
As an agricultural food fair, the Little Falls Cheese Festival seeks to celebrate our area’s rich history in cheesemaking and to highlight the next generation of artisan cheesemakers that dot our state’s beautiful landscape. We host brilliant area musicians to entertain attendees and provide space to the talented players of the Little Falls Theater Company (LiFT) for a who-dunnit play fun for all ages. There’s a food court made up entirely of food trucks and free shuttle buses running between multiple free parking lots to keep visitors (and residents) happy.
What has been missing—what I’ve been hoping and trying to interject into our charming country fair for the last few years–are the animals. It is hard to imagine a celebration of cheese without recognizing the cows, goats, sheep, and even water buffalo that are the origin story of cheesemaking.
And it’s not just the animals, is it? It is the relationship between man and beast, the coexistence of caretaker and herd, the role a dairy farmer plays in animal husbandry. By honoring the animals so important to cheesemaking, we must also give a deep appreciative nod to the farmers that coax the milk to flow.
But how to bring all of this to a public event? How can our festival celebrate the animals and their caretakers as well as cheese?
As a farmer, I always shudder just a bit when I see live farm animals at public events. I know how stressful it for them and for their keepers. The crowds, the strange noises and smells, and the travel all conspire to confuse and bother farm animals unaccustomed to such events.
And as a member of the planning committee, I am also hyper-aware that our visitors could get hurt or sick. Animals bite from time to time, especially if they are upset or confused. And although we would provide handwashing stations nearby, not everyone would wash their hands after petting the animals. The transmission of e-coli would be very real possibility, especially unfortunate at a food-centric event.
No, we would not be introducing live animals at the Little Falls Cheese Festival.
We ARE however, introducing something much more playful!
We have hired CORPUS, a world-renowned dance troupe from Toronto, Canada that will be performing their original work, Les Moutons (“The Sheep”). Performers dress up as sheep and imitate sheep behaviors in a way that will delight and amuse festival attendees. The performance comes complete with a shepherd, who will herd them through the festival and past the vendors’ booths, perhaps pausing to shear or milk one of the “sheep”.
I must admit, I am so excited for this performance! There is something intangible about being a farmer, caring for her animals, and experiencing the everyday quirks and behaviors of my goats and sheep that I have not been able to completely convey through this monthly column or via posts on Facebook. My animals have charmed me, this is true. They’ve also changed me in more ways than I’ll ever know.
When I first saw a performance of Les Moutons online, I was absolutely charmed. I recognized the behaviors as remarkably accurate; I knew from experience the interactions between shepherd and sheep were true. But they turn reality on its ear, with human actors portraying sheep to playful effect.
I have since worked very hard to bring the troupe to our festival. I am incredibly proud to have written a grant to cover a large portion of their performance fees and was successful with my visa petition to bring the Canadians here. If you enjoy reading this monthly column, I beg you to come check out the performance troupe that has bewitched this farmer!
Admission to the Little Falls Cheese Festival is free. Times and more information for the two performances of Les Moutons will be shared on the Little Falls Cheese Fest website (littlefallscheesefestival.com) and social media.