AgFest celebrates area’s agricultural history

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Agricultural equipment and machinery was on display at AgFest in New Baltimore. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

NEW BALTIMORE — After two years of being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last weekend’s AgFest was so popular, parking spaces in the huge field next to the festival grounds were hard to find.

AgFest, the New Baltimore Antique Machinery & Agricultural Festival, is held one weekend every June at the Van Etten farm on Sawmill Road.

“We have been doing this for 31 years,” said William Burns, president of the AgFest Committee, which organizes the event every year. “My father started it at his house on Route 9W and then we held it at both places — on 9W and here at the Van Etten farm, and we had a bus that went back and forth. Now, it’s just here at the farm.”

It’s difficult to estimate how many people attended this year’s event because there is no admission fee and people just come and go, Burns said.

In addition to exhibits of antique farm equipment, there was music, a silent auction, tractor-pull competitions, a community dinner in the evening, and vendors of all kinds — including one raising funds for the Class of 2024 at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School.

If you gazed skyward, there was also a demonstration of remote-control airplanes that swooped and zipped across the sky.

AgFest offers something for everyone, Burns said.

“This is something we started years and years ago and it just gets bigger every year,” he said. “I think it is good for New Baltimore — there are a lot of people here. There are not really many places where you can go for free anymore, and everything here is free.”

Kids had the opportunity to ride around on tractors and other farm equipment at AgFest, held June 4 and 5 at the Van Etten farm on Sawmill Road. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Shelly Van Etten, who co-owns the farm with her husband, said AgFest is an enjoyable event the entire community can take part in.

“We enjoy it and we feel like the community enjoys it, too,” Van Etten said. “It’s a nice activity for everyone to come to and it shows how things were done on farms years ago. I think the kids really enjoy it.”

Antique farm equipment was on display and several exhibitors demonstrated how the machinery works.  

Thomas Curtis, of Pompey, near Syracuse, showed how a 1922 50-horsepower Case steam traction engine works, operating a thresher that turns straw into grain.

“It separates the grain from the straw — that’s how they used to do it in the early 1900s,” Curtis explained. “My grandfather bought it and now I travel around to the shows — this is the first show I have been to this year. When I was small, my grandfather used to take me to the shows and I really liked it, so I have been coming to these shows pretty much all my life.”

Another popular activity at AgFest is the tractor-pull competition, where drivers test their lawn and garden tractors to see how far they can pull a transfer sled that is hooked up to the rear of the tractor.

“We go by horsepower and by weight,” said Rex Scanlon, who built the transfer sled. “The box on the transfer sled automatically comes up the further it goes and the more weight it puts down. There is 2,000 pounds — as you drive, it automatically goes up the rails and the closer it gets to the tractor, the heavier it gets.”

The tractor-pull pitted drivers against each other to see who could pull a transfer sled the longest distance. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Scanlon lives near Utica, but has traveled to AgFest for 29 of the 31 years the festival has been taking place.

New Baltimore Town Supervisor Jeff Ruso said the town offers support for AgFest in the form of paying for the insurance and putting up road signs directing traffic to the event, but the great majority of the work is done by the Van Etten family and the AgFest Committee.

AgFest was canceled the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Ruso said he was glad to see it back in 2022.

“I have never seen this many cars in this parking lot before. I am really glad it is back up and running,” Ruso said. “It really is the biggest event we have in the town of New Baltimore every year. It gets people out and about.”

A steam traction engine from 1922 operated a thresher, turning straw into grain at AgFest. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media
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