CHARLOTTESVILLE—From Springfield to Waupaca and Orange to Albemarle, county fairs across the country, state and region are canceling because of COVID-19, leaving some youth agricultural exhibitors with nowhere to show and sell livestock.
Fairs in Orange, Fluvanna, Louisa, Madison and Albemarle counties all called it off for this summer in response to the pandemic, and the Virginia State Fair recently announced the cancellation of this year’s event.
In Madison County, the fair would have happened this month but was stricken from the calendar on April 28.
“The decision to cancel the 2020 Madison County Fair was given much consideration, including input from many of our sponsors, entertainers and vendors,” the fair’s board posted on the fair’s website. “Safety of the community, and the future success of the fair, ultimately led to the fair board’s unanimous decision.”
Fluvanna County’s fair was slated for Aug. 20, but the tents were folded, so to speak, in June.
“Rather than put our fair partners, volunteers and community members at risk, we feel that this is the best decision for all parties involved,” Dylan Morris, coordinator of the county’s athletics and special events, wrote on the fair’s website. “We sincerely wish that we could have hosted the Fluvanna County Fair this year, but realize that the precautions necessary to keep fair patrons safe would not have been feasible.”
The Greene County Fair lost its lease after the 2018 fair and shut down before its 2019 event could occur.
Many area fair boards were settling closure contracts with vendors and providers of mechanical rides and midway games and shows, as well as informing agricultural exhibitors of the changes.
The Albemarle County Fair is a three-day agriculture-based affair similar to those held at the turn of the 20th century. It focuses on crafts, displays, baked goods, socializing and 4-H demonstrations and auctions of livestock to support the youths who raised the animals.
The smaller, more traditional format, held at James Monroe’s Highland, was developed in 2012. The fair was not held in 2011 because the former fairgrounds near North Garden was set for development.
Organizers say they are disappointed to have to cancel the fair and are working to find a way to continue the livestock sales, which is the culmination of 4-H programs sponsored by the Virginia Cooperative Extension program at Virginia Tech.
“Children are working and learning about their animals and getting a real education in agriculture,” said Alison Dickie, fair spokeswoman. “There are a lot of loyal fair-goers and sponsors and participants and we hate to disappoint them, but we want them to be safe.”
The 4-H Youth Livestock Program gives young people a chance to raise beef cattle, sheep and swine and to learn about selection, care and feeding of livestock, as well as animal health and record keeping.
The program offers livestock judging and stockmen’s contests and sponsors livestock shows at the county, district and state levels.
The extension service has canceled all of its shows this year due to COVID-19, but some local 4-H programs have turned to virtual presentations with photos and videos.
Dickie said Albemarle organizers currently are trying to put together an event where participants could show their animals, have them judged and possibly sell them.
The event would be held later this year and at a different location, as Highland currently is closed.
“We’re recruiting sponsors and buyers and we hope to put something together that will give the children who participated in the program a chance to show their animals and sell them,” Dickie said. “It’s part of the whole experience, both for 4-H and for the fair, and we don’t want them to miss it if they don’t have to.”
Fluvanna 4-H program will hold a livestock show on Aug. 22 but it will be closed to the public due to COVID-19 issues.
“We’ve moved our sale to an online format so that prospective buyers will not have to attend in person. We felt this was the best way to still allow youth the opportunity to complete their 4-H projects, even though it certainly won’t be the same as having the show during the fair,” said Kim Mayo, the county’s 4-H extension agent and unit coordinator. “Of course, all is subject to change as we monitor the COVID-19 situation.”
In Orange County, fair organizers have developed a virtual livestock show with videos, photographs and biographies of 4-H participants.
“The group’s livestock participants will make videos of their animals and participate in a virtual show with remote judges, who then will rank winners based on information and interviews with participants,” Kaci Daniel, county extension agent, told the Orange County Review. “The biggest difference is they won’t all be together in the fairgrounds’ show ring when the competition is held.”
Instead of an auction, the Orange 4-H will host a sponsorship platform for donors to support program participants instead of actually purchasing animals.
The youths still will be free to sell their animals, Daniel said.
Area fairs hope to return in 2021, and Albemarle County’s organization is no exception.
“We have a great site at Highland and we’re a good fit with them and there are a lot of people loyal to the fair that we don’t want to disappoint,” Dickie said. “With the lockdown and social distancing, a lot of people have learned to bake bread or cook and take up crafts—I’ve seen it on social media—and we encourage them to come out to show next year and make the fair even better.”