Pegi Holtz and Lindley McPhail are the main organizers of the fair, which brings in about 4,000 visitors.  Van Dusen photo

RUSSELL – Colourful cupcakes, other baked goods and food products; hand-made dulcimers and other crafted items; Laurie Maus and her dangling wool spinner…

They all added up to the 12th edition of the Living Locally Fair sponsored by the Russell Horticultural Society, held last Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School.

As has been the case for the past few years, exhibitor participation was limited to 100 booths with 50 per cent reserved for farm and food displays; this time, the ag and food sector took up 49 spots. The remainder were split between artisans, wellness, environmental and community groups.

Despite the threat of heavy snow – which did come later in the day – the customary crowd of 4,000 to 5,000 turned up, making it difficult at times to get through the two display areas, the “cafetorium” and the gym. Lindley McPhail, who spearheads the event with Pegi Holtz, said a precise attendance count isn’t kept and that the number provided is an educated guess; visitors come from Ottawa, across Eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

The event brought in about $5,000 for horticultural society coffers to be used in undertaking its public plantings and other projects throughout the community.

LLF is an opportunity for smaller producers to offer their wares, producers such as Garland Sugar Shack of Vars which sells at farmers’ markets and at the one-day LLF where Ivan Garland says they do very well. Garland is appreciative and, when the horticultural society needed a last-minute speaker for its regular meeting and LLF post-mortem Monday due to a cancellation, Garland was only too happy to oblige.

Many exhibitors say they register excellent sales at LLF, enough to provide a little cushion as they head into the busier spring and summer seasons. McPhail and Holtz form what they called a “benevolent dictatorship” which decides who gets a spot in LLF and who doesn’t, and who gets to come back. In 12 years, they’ve only banished three exhibitors for bad be­haviour, including one this time around.
During the post-mortem, McPhail thanked St. Thomas and the regional Catholic school board for the partnership which has been in place over the duration of LLF, including free use of the exhibit spaces, free winter mats and free janitorial services. In return, the school gets great public relations and visits by people who might otherwise not have a reason to enter the premises.

There are partnerships with other agencies, including Russell Township and Russell Meadows, which provides free meeting space to the horticultural society year-round. While members were impressed overall with the latest success, several suggested more signage next year to help direct attendees from the cafetorium to the gym.