Last Friday, intern Jeremy and I traveled to the New Jersey
State Fair “Sussex County Farm and Horse Show” to take stock of geographic action
in the Garden State.
What a trip. After no less than four years as a budding
geographer, it never ceases to amaze me how frequently geographic “lessons”
crop up–even when traveling short distances.
Geography Lesson #1:
If you’ve been reading the blog or our newsletters recently,
you know all about the 4-H-
MWW partnership at state and county fairs this summer and fall. MWW, along
with the GIS software developer ESRI,
is supporting 4-H students using the tools and techniques of geography to
benefit their communities. Each 4-H group takes their own approach to incorporating
geographic connections into their annual activities and local fair presence.
The culminating event of the New Jersey State Fair was the
“geography bowl,” a spirited, family-friendly competition. All participants
received My Wonderful World t-shirts, and two youth and adult winners went home
with National Geographic atlases, humbly presented by Yours Truly J
(well actually, we had to find an alternate prize for the adult winner, an avid
world traveler and National Geographic consumer who claimed to own both of the
atlases and subscribe to multiple National Geographic magazines). By far the
most gratifying part of the evening, though, was the enthusiasm and curiosity
exhibited by contestants and audience members as they sought the correct
answers. Excellent job all!
Geography Lesson #2:
New Jersey really is the Garden State.
Or at least a Garden State.
Or, there are substantial parts of the state with farmland and gardens. This is
often lost to those of us whose experience with New Jerseyis primarily relegated to driving
through on the Thruway or strolling along the boardwalk by the “shore.” Sussex County,
located northwest of New York City,
is a bucolic, verdant agricultural region—perfect site for the state
Geography Lesson #3: Sussex County has lots of…Polish people. And
In addition to farmland, Sussex County
is home to large populations of European descendants, including Italian, Irish,
German, and Polish; an
interesting tidbit of cultural geography. We missed the polka dancing, but did
get to sample some Polish pierogies and “slamburgers” (lamb burger with swiss
cheese), alongside the standard hot dogs and fried dough staples of Americana.
We were also surprised to discover that in a traditionally “blue” state, Sussex County,
located just 1.5 hours from Manhattan,
swings largely Republican, as seemingly indicated by the size of the respective
Republican and Democratic Party booths at the fair. Goes to show just how
important it is to consider geographic scale when thinking about politics and other
Geography Lesson #4:
The East Coast loves its toll roads.
This was not news to me, having spent years driving down and
back from my hometown of Boston, MA. But for Jeremy, the East
Coast rookie from Modesto,CA, it was a bit of a shock to shell out $30
in Thruway tolls. Why the discrepancy in transportation fees East and West of
the Rockies? I would imagine that the extreme
temperatures, humidity, frequent (and often frozen) precipitation, and resultant
salt and sand eroding East Coast byways results in greater maintenance
requirements, compared with West Coast roads (at least in dry, temperate, California
with its Mediterranean climate). But perhaps there are other factors at work as
well, e.g. political? Any ideas or experts out there who might have a clue?
Geography Lesson #5: When
going on a road trip, ALWAYS bring a map.
Can you believe there were two geographers in the car, and
neither one of us had a road map? I, for one, assumed the rental car company
would provide local maps as standard protocol. Silly me. As a result, we got
lost a couple times on the drive up and had to rely on our keen senses of
direction to find our way. Luckily, we kept our spirits up, and the geographic
learnin’ was well worth the trip!
Have you visited a 4-H-My Wonderful World booth at a state
or county fair? Tell us about it!
Photos from top, courtesy Sarah J. Caban:
1) An elaborate sand sculpture announces the "2008 New Jersey State Fair."
2) Student Geography Bowl Contestants. From left to right: First, second, and third prize winners.
3) Enthusiastic spectators watch the Geography Bowl.
4) A goat scales "Mt. Camel" at the petting zoo.
Sarah Jane for My Wonderful World