Azerbaijan is approximately the same size as the state of Maine, which is located in the far northeastern part of the United States. My wife Anne and I have a tree farm in Maine, and have been coming there with our family for many years to learn about, enjoy, and conserve the magnificence of the natural world. In Maine, just as in Azerbaijan, agriculture – especially small farms – are important sources of livelihood and ways of maintaining traditions.
This week that important aspect of Maine’s life and economy is being celebrated at a week-long fair in Windsor, a town close to our family farm. I had a wonderful opportunity to tour the Fair’s final preparations with my son Stephen and hear from the Fair’s President, Tom Foster, as well as meet Marge Kilkelly, Senior Policy Advisor to Senator Angus King of Maine. The Fair opens officially on August 27 and runs through September 4, which is Labor Day in the United States.
Roughly 130,000 people will visit the Fair, where they will see exhibits on farming and Maine’s history, and will enjoy competitions among farmers growing various crops and raising a variety of animals. The Windsor Fair is more than just an exhibition. It’s also a place simply to have a good time with the family on carnival rides or watching horse racing, other events such as truck, tractor, oxen and horse pulls, where contestants demonstrate how much weight their machines and animals can tow as well as to participate in livestock auctions and pie baking contests.
These fairs are also a way to interest young people in agriculture, to help farmers find ways to boost their production, and to think about how to add value to the products they grow. The ability to get good, accurate information when farmers need it is an essential factor in the success of American farming.
While I was on my vacation in Maine, Azerbaijan was never far from my mind. The Fair reminded me of Azerbaijanis’ efforts to diversify their economy, support agriculture, and find more value in the agricultural products they grow. Supporting these efforts is a main focus of the U.S. Embassy and USAID here in Azerbaijan, and is something I personally take very seriously. In talking to Mainers about Azerbaijan, I was struck by how much farmers in Maine and Azerbaijan have in common, from the comparatively small size of Maine farms, to the pride they take in their products and heritage, to the focus many have in being as organic as possible – factors that sometimes give farmers in Maine the feeling they have more in common with farmers in Europe than with the large farms many think of when talking about agriculture in the United States. Growing apples and raising goats, sheep, cows, and poultry are as important in Maine as they are in Azerbaijan, as is finding ways to increase the value-added for the individual farmer. Also, like Azerbaijanis, Mainers value and take pride in the quality and freshness of their local farm products ranging from blueberries to cheeses to meat.