The jewel in the crown at a big State Fair is the cowsheds. Dairy-families bring their stock to show, camping out and caring for the animals, and connecting with each other and with the larger social public. This year we walked into the shed and it was practically empty. Where once the place was full of human and animal life, the place is now empty by at least a half. It felt like walking into a disaster zone. It used to be a bustle of action: cleaning, clipping, washing, walking, milking. The cow people used to schmooze a lot, with each other and with us. There used to be more cow-kids too, working the stalls with their parents and out and about on the Midway.
When we asked her what was going on, one of the women working there simply said, “Farming sucks.” By her reckoning, farm communities are holding on by a thread, it’s expensive to bring cows to a fair and to maintain them there, and there’s no money to spare. She blamed the problem largely on milk prices remaining flat against the rise in the cost of living. As for the future of the industry, she guessed that fewer and fewer large concerns would own more and more stock. She also said that there had been signs of this for some time now, but that this year was really bad. Indeed, I’ve never seen anything like this all my years coming to the New York State Fair. But I did not have the courage or heart to ask if this hollowing out of farm communities has not even a little to do with Trump trade wars. All that empty space. You feel for things and for people and let it go.