A field of dreams – and tractors, plows, farm talk and food

Skies over the plowing-match site

A sunbeam shines down through the fluffy clouds on the ever-growing tent city at the site of the Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show at Cornervue Farms on Queensborough Road.

Remember how a few months ago I told you that the agricultural event of the year was coming to Queensborough? And explained that the agricultural event in question was the Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show? Well, guess what, people? The Plowing Match is upon us! And here in Queensborough and environs, we are braced for a huge influx of people and lots of excitement. Why, it’s almost certainly the biggest thing to hit our corner of the world since the Rock Acres Peace Festival way back in 1971!

Hastings County Plowing Match 2016

More than 20,000 people – 20,000! – are expected for the Plowing Match, which takes place this coming Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 24 and 25, at the McKinnon family’s Cornervue Farms, 2431 Queensborough Rd., just west of Queensborough proper. (And just northeast of Hazzards Corners, which in turn is due north of Madoc. Consider yourself oriented.)

I’m pretty sure I speak for everyone in Queensborough when I say we’ve been watching with great interest over the past few days as tents and signs started going up, tractors and other farm machinery arrived at the site, and the first of what will doubtless be many portapotties was installed:

Plowing-match site 2

The first of the tents (and the first of the portapotties) set up toward the western edge of the large plowing-match site on Queensborough Road late last week. (Photo courtesy of Marykay York-Pronk)

Plowing-match poster from 1966The Hastings County Plowing Match in its current incarnation has been going on since 1989 – although similar events were held well before that, as you can tell from the photo at right, a picture of a picture that appeared in a Plowing Match special edition published by the folks behind one of our local weekly papers, the Central Hastings/Trent Hills News. It shows the event’s publicity chairman, Jim Haggerty, with a poster advertising a plowing match in central Hastings County back in 1966.

Hastings County

As you can see, there’s a lot more of Hastings County north of Highway 7 – the yellow line running east-west through Marmora and Madoc – than there is south of it. Not too much of that land is good for farming, however – with some happy exceptions.

While I tend to think of 1989 as yesterday, it was in fact a while back – 27 years, to be exact. And in all that time, people, the Plowing Match has never until now been held North of 7! (That’s Highway 7, for those uninitiated with the phrase, which I explain in detail here.) This might seem odd, given that there’s a lot more square miles of Hastings County north of 7 than there are south of it. But Highway 7 is the east-west dividing line between fertile farmland and rolling hills and fields (to the south) and the thin and rocky soil atop the Canadian Shield (to the north). North of 7 country is where pioneers’ dreams were dashed, when they tried and utterly failed to establish farms on soil that just wasn’t good enough. The whole story of the Old Hastings Road a bit north of Queensborough is about that.

However – and this is very important: that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of good soil, and very successful farms, north of 7. The McKinnon operation just west of Queensborough is one excellent example. Angus McKinnon – my contemporary and former schoolmate at Madoc Township Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary School, back in the years when I was growing up in Queensborough – now operates the farm with his father, Don, a very active nonagenarian. As Angus said in an interview published in that Plowing Match publication I referred to earlier, Don “has been here all his life, and his father and his father.” The McKinnon family settled the farm back in the 19th century, and has operated it successfully in all the generations since.

We’re all so happy for the McKinnons’ operation to be in the agricultural spotlight in this way. And so excited about the week ahead!

So what goes on at a plowing match, anyway? Well, let’s have a gander at the schedule:

Plowing Match schedule

So there’s plowing, of course: competitions in many different classes in which, to quote the event’s website, participants “are judged or scored in five different areas, including the opening split, the crown and the finish. And covering any green matter is mandatory in all classes, whether it is plowing in grain stubble or sod.” (I confess I really do not know what any of this means, but I hope that after watching some live plowing this week I will.) The classes include tractors, horses, antique tractors, walking plows, young people, and Queen of the Furrow (more on that shortly) – as well as one for local politicians, and even one for the media. (Do reporters and heavy farm equipment mix? I guess we’ll find out!) And all of that’s a big deal.

Vintage tractor at the Plowing Match

A great old Allis-Chalmers, one of the many antique tractors that will be on display at the show.

But there’s also the farm-show part, which at least as big a deal. As the publicity materials say: “300 exhibitors of agricultural technology and services, woodlot info and demos, crafts, family program, antiques, Queen of the Furrow and entertainment.” Not bad! (Okay, what’s Queen of the Furrow? Not a beauty contest, organizers stress. It’s a competition to be named a young ambassador for Hastings County agriculture – and yes, you do have to demonstrate plowing skills, as well as public-speaking skills and whatnot. I do find it a bit retro that the title is “queen” of the furrow. Surely young men could be agriculture ambassadors too?)

The number of tents and displays set up – I got an advance look when I was out at the site this morning – is astounding. It seems like anything you could ever want to look at in the way of farm equipment will be there, all shiny and new for you to admire.There was a steady stream of big trucks like this bringing in equipment this morning:

Incoming equipment

I leafed through the ads in that Plowing Match publication to get a sense of other equipment and services that would be on display, and here’s just some of what I found: milking systems for tie stall, parlour and robotics (Greek to me, but dairy farmers will understand); generators; custom manure spreading; chainsaws; fuels; seeds; farm insurance; trailers; wood stoves; bush hogs; roofing; farm sheds; feed suppliers – and on and on and on.

But if farm equipment and services aren’t your thing, there’s always the Family Tent, with a variety of speakers and events. Its schedule was just published today on the farm show’s Facebook page, and here it is:

Family Tent Schedule

Freddy Vette, a hugely popular musician and DJ on good old CJBQ radio out of Belleville, should be a big draw. Fashion shows featuring ordinary humans from the local area as models are always fun. The Hidden Goldmine Bakery in Madoc is insanely great (as I’ve written before), and it will be interesting to hear from its proprietors, Cheryl and Brad Freeman. And I am delighted that Queensborough’s own Elaine Kapusta has been invited to speak about “Historic Queensboro” (love the vintage spelling)!

Queensborough stuff for sale

Queensborough caps, mugs and cutting boards will be for sale at the Queensborough Community Centre tent.

Hey, speaking of Elaine and “Historic Queensboro” – the organization that Elaine will be representing, and that Raymond and I are also volunteers with, will have a tent at the farm show. Please stop by the Queensborough Community Centre tent to say hello, learn more about Queensborough, and maybe buy one of our nifty items for sale: Queensborough walking/driving-tour booklets, and caps, mugs and locally made cutting boards all featuring the Queensborough logo. What a great memento of the farm show – and in buying them you’ll be contributing to the work that the QCC does in promoting our little hamlet, preserving its heritage, and providing community programs and events.

Three United Churches banner

The main focus for Raymond and me at the Plowing Match will be helping out at the food tent that volunteers from three local United churches – ours (St. Andrew’s in Queensborough), Bethesda in White Lake and St. John’s in Tweed – will be operating. About 25 of us were out at the Plowing Match site this morning getting things set up. I have a few photos of this very pleasant few hours:

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As is always the case, many hands made light work, and there was a lot of laughter along the way. We’re going to be working awfully hard on Wednesday and Thursday to feed those long lineups of hungry farm-show visitors, but we know the experience will also be a whole of fun.

So listen: your mission for this week is to come visit the Plowing Match! Enjoy the plowing, the equipment displays, the special events, and the food. (Ours will be the tent at the northwest corner of the site – and did I mention there’ll be homemade pie?) Enjoy the company of lots of good farm folk and their urban neighbours out for a day in the country. And most of all, enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the McKinnon Farm and Queensborough – which is, as we say around here, a little bit of heaven north of 7.