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Sussex Fair Shows New Jersey at Its Best


Gregory J. Rummo

AUGUST 4, 2002

Aa a New Jerseyan for the past sixteen years, I am sick and tired of all the jokes about my state. Do I hear some resonance out there among the eight-plus million of you who live here or am I a voice crying in the wilderness? Frankly, I’ve just about had enough of stuff like, “Will the last person leaving New Jersey, remember to turn out the lights?”

New Jersey has the unfortunate reputation throughout the country as “The Armpit of America.” And that opinion is not just in the minds of the people who live in the Grand Tetons, or in fly-over states like Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, where, incidentally my business frequently takes me so I know what they think about us out there.

There are some guilty culprits right in our own backyard. Remember, for example, the sign that used to be along I-78 - “Welcome To Pennsylvania -- America Begins Here?”

A lot of the misconceptions about New Jersey being a cramped, smelly, dirty, hot and humid place infested with bugs is a result of the way most visitors arrive at our doorstep—through Newark airport. Admittedly, that last 20 miles on final approach is enough to depress even me.

But hey, we are the “Garden State” after all. We are not the “Refinery State” or the “Inner City” state. There has to be a reason that moniker appears on our license plates. This week, the folks in Upstate New Jersey are doing their best dispel those ugly rumors at the Sussex County Farm & Horse Show, running this week at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. It wasn’t cramped—there’s 125 acres on which to spread out on the fairgrounds in Augusta, NJ. But it was smelly, dirty, hot and humid and infested with bugs—just what you’d expect when you pack several thousand
people together with hundreds of farm animals during one of New Jersey’s scorchers of a heat wave. It was wonderful.

I went with my family and a small group of friends from our church. Two of the couples in particular were really looking forward to the NJ State Fair this year—the Blacks who are from St. Francis, Minnesota, a small town where loons call softly in the evenings, and the Garrisons who come from Kentucky.

State Fairs were made for people like the Blacks and the Garrisons, who both now live in Paterson. The sight of fresh vegetables with the dirt still clinging to them and the smell of animal manure helps them keep their sanity while living and working in the most densely populated state, where the melodious calls of loons have been supplanted by things like the shrill wail of emergency vehicles and booming bass lines from 300-watt car stereos playing rap music at 3:00 AM.

Chris Garrison’s grandfather owned a 9-acre farm in rural Kentucky. “I would help him with taking care of it. I do know how to drive a farm tractor,” he told me with an obvious longing in his voice. “I can plant corn, pick potatoes, drive a tractor and can vegetables.”

“All of my family grew up on farms,” he continued, “and we went to every state fair every year-the tractor pulls, greasy food, rickety rides and the livestock-been there done that.”

Brandon Black also grew up in a farming community. “But I never lived on a farm. I just helped out once in awhile. Now my wife Sharon — she practically grew up in a corn field.”

According to both the Garrisons and the Blacks, the Sussex County Fair had the right mix of all of these things—the greasy food, (Yum, the fried Zeppole were delicious), the rickety rides, the livestock and even the tractor pulls - two of them on the day we were there. (It’s rumored the Garrison’s had their first date at a tractor pull).

You’ll want to make several copies of this column for those folks you happen to know who relish poking fun at us, thinking New Jersey is nothing more than an open sewer running into New York Harbor. Use it as a reminder that we have 127 miles of white sand beaches, 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail that winds through our forests and the largest tract of open space east of the Mississippi—the 1.1 million-acre Pine Barrens National Reserve.

Explain to those out-of-state infidels that we don't call New Jersey "The Garden State" for nothing. The state’s official website boasts over 150 types of fruits and vegetables grown here on 9,400 farms. New Jersey ranks high in cultivated and fresh market produce output for the United States: second in blueberries and eggplant, third in cranberries, peaches, spinach, and bell peppers, fourth in asparagus, and fifth in head lettuce.

If you mail a copy of this column to a friend, you might also like to consider including one of those sweatshirts — you know — the one with the heart-warming message emblazoned across the chest: “Welcome to New Jersey - now go home!”

Gregory J. Rummo is a syndicated columnist and author of the "The View from the Grass Roots." You may contact him through his website,

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