How a Small Upstate New York Village Used Corn to Put Itself on the Map

s.newvine 2000 avon rotary corn fest (1)

The Rotary Club I belonged to in Avon, New York is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of a summer festival that has put the community on the map.

The Avon Corn Festival provides entertainment, arts, and (you guessed it) corn to tens of thousands of visitors over the past two and a half decades.

The Avon Rotary Club sponsors the event, but it really belongs to the entire community.

The idea for a Corn Festival began when interested citizens met to brainstorm ideas for some kind of event to celebrate the community’s agricultural heritage.  Some civic clubs and interested community members grabbed onto the idea of a festival named after a popular local crop and made their idea happen in 1987.

In the early years, the festival experienced some growing pains.  But one organization, Avon Rotary Club, hung in there and continues to present the event every year on the first Saturday in August.

As a member of the club, my memories include the several weeks of preparation, an intense week leading up to the festival, and an extremely long day when the festival actually arrived.

Year after year, the festival defined summertime in that small upstate New York community.   One year it rained practically all day.  We had company visiting and thought their first exposure to the festival would have to wait until another year.

Later in the day, the rain stopped and we took a walk to the festival grounds where I saw one of the largest crowds ever.  It seemed the entire community wouldn’t let the rain spoil their event.

I joined the Avon Rotary Club in 1995 and was elected President five years later.  One of my duties as President was to welcome the community to a free rock and roll concert to cap the full day of activities.

I felt like a cross between Dick Clark and Ryan Secrest as I introduced the band called the Skycoasters!

There would have a lot of hard work the day and night of the festival, but our job was far from over.  The next morning, every Rotarian was expected to be back at the festival site to take down any remaining booths and tents, as well as to sweep the streets and get the area looking better than we found it just two days prior.

I have spoken and written about this community’s celebration of agriculture to groups in New York, Delaware, and here in California.  I speak to groups in our state about how a small village in upstate New York could create a powerful tourism venue.

I’ve written about Avon Rotary’s fund raising event in a book on personal development skills Soft Skills in Hard Times.  My message is simple: find something that makes your town unique, mobilize your community’s energy through volunteers, and promote the heck out of it.

It was a privilege serving in Avon Rotary for ten of the twenty years I lived in that community.  My proudest moment during that time was sponsoring a member who would eventually become the first woman President of the Club.

Being part of the Corn Festival was truly the most rewarding aspect of my time with Rotary.

Everyone in the Club knew that a successful festival would help the Club give back to so many community organizations and charitable causes.

In twenty-five years, that single focus has never changed!

Steve Newvine lives in Merced and served as President of the Avon, New York Rotary Club in 2000-2001