September 8, 2009

This Year, There's More to the State Fair than Grandma's Apple Pie

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Perhaps it’s America’s humble, rural origins that produced this backcountry entertainment, such as livestock competitions and baking exhibitions. Or maybe it’s just the personal desire to win that has driven generations of Americans to town, county, and state fairs.
By tradition, State Fairs are a recreational gathering of competitors and patrons alike, seeking their amusement from musicians and farming oddities, but there’s a reason they award ribbons of eight colors. Competitors have traditionally been driven by the desire to display the fruits of delicate labor and achieve the respect of their friends and neighbors.
The stories seem familiar enough: Old Mr. McCurry’s eighty pound pumpkin, Grandma Leroy’s sweet apple pie, Jim-Ray’s home-made, hand-crafted, award-winning furnishings. These are the stories of ordinary Americans, seeking the extraordinary opportunity to advance to national competition. These are the stories rooted in American Tradition: the stories novelized by fellow Cornellian and Sunnie E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. These are the stories of humble, ordinary Americans rising to greatness, if only for a day.
But these humble stories are changing.
At the most recent gathering of the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, the Cornell University Solar Decathlon team demonstrated the fruits of their delicate labor: an eco-friendly, eye-catching, energy-efficient dream home.
Jim-Ray could never imagine such an achievement!
The stories of rural America are growing into the achievements of modern man.
As a union of traditional, rural architecture and modern, technological initiative, the house exemplifies the vibes of its rural fair exhibition while pressing forward into a new era of living.
With solar panels, LED lighting and energy-efficient appliances, it seems silly to compare it to typical fair-ground attractions, but the comfortable home is a testament to traditional, rural competition. Made from local materials, including ash tongue-and-groove flooring, the house echoes the traditions of Upstate New York, displaying “vernacular architecture,” according to the team’s website, and “original designs.” And yet, at any whim, the home’s sleepy resident can usher forth their bed from the Jetson-like ceiling. That’s right! The bed descends from the ceiling.
Beginning October ninth, the team of undergraduates and graduates will enter their solar home in the national fair, The Solar Decathlon, which is hosted by the US Department of Energy.
They will, of course, seek the metaphorical blue ribbon — it’s the nature of craftsmanship. But should another team win — their opponents include representatives from Tufts University, Rice University, Penn State and sixteen others — there will be no losers. Blue ribbons, red ribbons, white ribbons; it doesn’t matter. In the eyes of the future, the colors are black and white.
This is the true change in the Great New York State Fair. While the union of past, present and future may be a welcome theme to the fair, the ideal change can only be the new nature of the fair attractions. The decathlon team didn’t feed a bloated hog for personal glory; the undergraduates built a practical home for the future.
New York residents didn’t flock to the house to see an oddity; they assembled to join the initiative. Of course, they wanted to see the extraordinary pumpkin, but more importantly, they wanted to get a slice of the pie.