Yesterday, I drove up to Warrenton to volunteer as a judge at the Warren County Fair, to help out one of my friends from college who is a North Carolina Cooperative Extension agent up in Warren County.

What a great experience! I’d only experienced the North Carolina State Fair before — a bewildering number of competitions, exhibitions, and people. The county fair had a much smaller, close-knit community feeling. The exhibitions were held in a barn behind the local Lions Club. (The Lions Club itself was serving plate lunches — fried chicken, string beans, butter beans, mashed potatoes, and gravy, obviously all cooked right there by some fantastic homestyle cooks.) The barn was hung with signboards for local businesses — all hand-lettered, great examples of that wonderful lost art.

With a partner (a cooperative extension agent in another county), I judged entries in photography, potted plants, flower arranging, and cakes. There were also competitions in painting, needlecrafts (needlepoint, sewing, quilting, knitting, crocheting), other baked goods, and canned goods of all kinds.

There are some amazing bakers in Warren County! There are also some fantastic gardeners. (The begonia competitors were so strong that we had to get the entire panel of judges involved to decide!)

But I was disappointed to see so few entries in many categories — just one or two. I wanted to see more of what people in the community are doing. And I was sad to hear several of the cooperative extension agents saying that county fairs are dying all over the place.

The Warren County fair coincided with a lot of talk in my RSS feed and Twitter stream about the New York Maker Faire this weekend. I thought about the online revolution of makers and crafters, sharing their projects and tips at Makezine, Craftzine, Ravelry, BurdaStyle, and elsewhere. I thought about Etsy, and how it’s big enough to attract its own satire blogs.

I thought about the growing interest in small-scale, local food. Duke’s campus farm was started by young people who want to learn about small-scale organic farming, and there are many other campus farms around the country, responding to an interest in sustainable agriculture. More and more people are interested in community gardens, too. Likewise, there’s a new interest in home cooking with these fresh, local ingredients. Mark Bittman sells a lot of books teaching people how to cook and bake.

And I thought — Why are all these makers, crafters, gardeners, small farmers, and bakers all on the internet? Why aren’t a few of them at the Warren County Fair? Or the Iredell County Fair, or the Duplin County Fair, or the Stokes County Fair?

I know the internet has a more urban population overall — less likely to live in places with small ag fairs. But despite appearances, not everyone on the internet lives in New York or San Francisco.

What’s a county fair but an old-school meetup for local farmers, crafters, and makers? It’s a place to show off what you grow, the animals you raise, and the things you make. It’s a place to meet other people who do what you do, and people who are interested in paying you for what you do.

Maybe the county fair is a tradition whose time has come back around. If you grow things or make things, maybe you should check whether your county has a fair.