One of my happiest childhood memories centers my parents taking me each summer to the Northern Neck Fair in Warsaw. Those experiences never have dimmed, and I remember being quite sad when I learned the fair passed into history, but that was before an energetic and creative young man from up North came to the Commonwealth to become the County Extension Agent for Richmond County.
His name is Kelly Liddington and from 1987 until 2014 in his capacity as County Agent, he invigorated the realm of agriculture throughout the entire Northern Neck and—perhaps most importantly for those not directly involved in agricultural production—he brought about the return of the fair, this time known as the Richmond County Fair.
Kelly hails from Upstate New York. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s in agricultural education from The Ohio State University and another bachelor’s from Old Dominion University in dairy science. During his time here, each year he organized the Northern Neck Farm Tour—filling a bus with farmers and others who wanted to see how agriculture was handled in different locations across the East Coast. In 1992, I accompanied the group to Kelly’s home area; the highlight was visiting the Broom County Fair.
New Yorkers take their fairs seriously and the Broom County Fair is more on the order of a state fair than a mere county operation. We also visited the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. On the way home we toured a coal mine near Scranton, Pennsylvania. Kelly is a master of detail, whose knack resulted in a flawless journey. We stopped to see the Cornell University dairy barn where we witnessed a cow delivering her calf, albeit with the help of a professor and an aide. From my non-veterinary perspective, I should venture to say the cow’s healthy delivery must have been the conclusion of a somewhat difficult pregnancy.
After his retirement, Kelly moved to North Carolina where he presently is working with Carolina Common Enterprise, an organization founded in 2012 in the wake of the financial crisis of the previous years to foster community development, especially in lower-income areas. His particular focus is on teaching farmers how to organize and operate a cooperative. He refers to himself as an educator at heart, enjoying the thrill of seeing others profit from his broad knowledge and experience.
Last week, via Zoom, Kelly addressed the Northern Neck Master Gardeners, describing how he organized the Richmond County Fair and what its economic impact has been on the entire region. He mentioned one of the fair’s most popular attractions, the “Farmer for a Day” program, in which the two B.E.s enthusiastically participated. One highlight for them was learning how to milk a cow. Perhaps one day they can show me, although our family has not owned cows since I was a boy. At his current location in the Piedmont of North Carolina Kelly is raising registered Angus livestock.
Kelly’s good friend, the late Bristow Balderson, was a mainstay of the fair, always bringing several of his Murray Grey cows, who did not object to being petted, or milked, not surprisingly. The menagerie at the fair each year has given visitors an opportunity to appreciate our local livestock and horticulture, as well as the hard work our farmers do to make life better for all of us. The best avenue to begin that learning process is to attend the Richmond County Fair.
For his part, Kelly is a farmer’s farmer, a teacher’s teacher, and a contributor’s contributor. The Northern Neck is a far better place for all of his manifold efforts.