The Big E! is a fun place to meet Maine producers and get a taste of Maine, but nothing beats the Real (Maine) thing! The Big E will not be taking place in 2020 due to the coronavirus, but many of the vendors typically featured in the Maine building have products available in retail stores and online.
The Eastern State Exposition (a.k.a. The Big E!) was founded in West Springfield, MA in 1916. It is the largest fair in New England and the 6th largest in the nation with over 1.6 million visitors in 2019. This 17-day fair starts the second Friday after Labor Day. The fair was founded to promote agricultural products, innovations, and vocations in the industry. Today that tradition continues. From 4-H livestock competitions, agricultural demonstrations, live animal displays, to food vendors featuring New England favorites there is something for everyone.
Eastern States Farmers’ Market and Wine Barn
One of the newest additions to the venue is the Farmers’ Market. Attached to the Wine Barn you’ll find an assortment of farm-to-table products like cheese, crackers, spreads, salsas, jellies, wines, and other gifts and homewares from across New England. Come pick up some of Maine’s favorites like Bixby & Co. chocolates, Luigi Del Conte sauces, LooHoo woolen goods, and Pineland Farms cheese. While you’re there you might also catch a 4-H cooking demonstration or grab a wine slushie and a cheese plate to enjoy in the courtyard.
One of the best reprieves from beating the crowds and hot weather is to visit the Mallary Complex. Take a seat and rest while watching New England’s best livestock handlers showcase their animals in the show rings. Or peruse the stalls to visit with some 4-H students and their animals or check out some other livestock demonstrations like sheep shearing or yarn making?
Want to see where some of these award-winning animals are raised? Check out the programming offered at Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Aldermere Farm Preserve in Rockport. Or catch a livestock show at one of Maine’s several summer fairs. And if your kids really loved the animals perhaps they might enjoy enrolling in a farm camp like Hart-to-Hart Farm in Albion or Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment in Freeport. Maybe while they are away you can enjoy pursuing an interest in cooking or fiber arts at a farm retreat like those offered at Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm in New Portland.
Avenue of States
After you’ve worked up an appetite visiting with the Grand Champions head over to one of the fair’s most popular attractions, the Avenue of States. Did you know that the State of Maine owns about an acre of sovereign land here? In fact, each of the six New England States has their own properties along the avenue each featuring their own life-size capital building. Inside these state houses, you will find exhibits and vendors exemplifying their culture, food, and heritage.
The Maine Building
The Maine Building was erected in 1925 they say at a cost of $50,000. It features 4,000 square feet of interior retail space as well as an open-air market in the backyard hosting some of Maine’s finest artists and food producers showcasing the best of Maine. It is a fun place to meet local producers, get your photo taken in a human-sized lobster trap, and do some holiday shopping. Or just relax outback with a slice of Fire & Company wood-fired pizza or a W.A. Beans & Sons Red Snapper hotdog with Raye’s Mustard paired with an award-winning microbrew from Maine Beer Company while you wait for the daily parade to begin.
Upon entering the rotunda, you may notice some familiar lighthouse prints featured at Portland’s Jetport. Local Maine Artist, Alan Claude has been a prominent vendor in the building for years and can always be found chatting with customers or video graphing life at the Maine Building. Be sure to say hello and pick up a few signed calendars for the holidays.
You can also catch him back at home at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland.
Not to be missed, one of the most unique artists on the Avenue of States is Rick Carey of Old Bottle Sea Glass of Maine. Rick is an advanced underwater diver, recovering treasures from Maine’s shores and bringing new life to them in his unique and sometimes humorous articulated style. Rick has a vast history of archeology in Maine and he’s got a story to go along with each piece. His gallery includes mosaic dishware whales, to elegant Tiffany lamps, and unique stained glass pieces adorned with long lost children’s toys. Take a little piece of Maine home with you.
Better yet, you can find him and other treasures at the South Berwick Maine Strawberry Festival!
Forest products are another iconic Maine industry. Maine is the most forested state in the nation and boasts having the most diverse forest products industry. Hilltop Spoonworks celebrates the diversity of our local forests with Beau Taylor’s beautifully crafted and durable wooden kitchen utensils from Maine species including Walnut, Cherry, Birch, and Maple. From custom Kuksa mugs, to measuring cups, lefthanded spoons, and bakers tools these pieces are not just functional, but works of art.
Maine is undoubtedly known for our fisheries. In the Maine Building you can treat yourself to some fresh Maine seafood too. Pass up the deep-fried Oreos and donut parfaits for a more rewarding treat- Maine Aquaculture Association Smoked Salmon on a Stick. Repeatedly awarded the healthiest food at the Big E you can grab some extra for your freezer too! Or if you are looking for the quintessential lobster roll, Hancock Gourmet Lobster has you covered. Can’t wait for the Big E? No problem, Hancock has several prepared seafood appetizers, entrees, and soups available for delivery on their website.
Agriculture has played a significant role in shaping Maine’s culture and values. The Maine Building offers several ways for patrons to hear from and support our agricultural industries. One of the most well-known exhibits in the Maine Building is the Maine Baked Potato with its long line weaving alongside the building. Each year Irving Farms from “The County” will go through an entire tractor-trailer truck full of 50 lb bags of potatoes just for this exhibit.
Nothing says Maine like a slice of blueberry pie. Maine Wild Blueberry Commission’s interactive exhibit is staffed by actual Maine Wild Blueberry growers! They’re here to tell you what makes Maine’s wild blueberries stand out from the rest and share samples and recipes with you.
Maine Day always falls on the second Saturday after Labor Day. It is a day dedicated to celebrating the State of Maine, where special activities and performances are hosted at the State of Maine Building, including a parade around the fairground. But the celebration doesn’t end there. Come to Maine and experience the Real Maine! You can get there from here! Be sure to visit the tourism booth on your way out and get the inside scoop on what to see and do in Vacationland from some Real Maine-ahs.