Contributed photo

The uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing hard decisions across the state regarding annual harvest fairs, leaving a void for those who look forward to entertainment, community engagement, fundraising and revenue.

To date, 17 of the 34 annual agricultural fairs that were scheduled to take place throughout the state have been canceled.

Last week, Durham Fair President Daniel Miramant announced on Facebook that the state’s largest country fair would be a casualty of the coronavirus.

“Given the uncertainty of this deadly virus, the potential resurgence during the fall timeframe and the health, safety and logistical impacts of our volunteers, fairgoers and community, our Directors have voted decisively to cancel the 2020 fair,” he wrote.

Similarly, Guilford Fair President John Hammarlund wrote, “We regret having to take this course of action, but we err on the side of caution.”

Connecticut fairs date back over a century, to a time when they served as community gatherings to celebrate harvests, show off prized recipes, enormous vegetables, pristine livestock and more. These events are ingrained in the fiber of many of the towns and cities throughout the state. Losing them is another way the economy, on a micro level, will be negatively affected.

“We have spent the past two months vetting all possible scenarios of having the fair this year and it really came down to the health and safety of the fairgoers, the concession workers and the volunteers,” said Miramant. “The state couldn’t give us much guidance as to where we will be in regard to public safety and social distancing practices in September so, with the huge amount of uncertainty, we really had no choice but to cancel.”

The Durham fair has only been canceled four other times; first in 1938 due to the devastating 1938 hurricane, and again during the years of 1942, 43 and 44 for World War II. The Guilford Fair, which began in 1859, has only been canceled four times in the last 161 years, for World War I, the 1938 hurricane and World War II.

The Durham Fair also plays host to over 30 non-profits, which raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through the event. It’s the largest fundraiser for many of the organizations, and the money goes right back into the community, leaving them to face deficits without the event. In addition, many fairs raise money for scholarships and this year those funds will be greatly affected.

Contributed photo

“Our marketing team is currently looking into ways in which we can help the non-profits that rely on the fair as a fundraiser. We are not sure yet exactly what those different opportunities will be, possibly some online events. We are doing what we can to make this a better situation for everyone,” said Miramant.

He added, “Most of the feedback we have received from the community and the annual fairgoers, about our choice, has been positive and people understand our decision was made because of safety and health. We are looking forward to 2021 and hope that it will be bigger and better than ever.”

The Wallingford Grange Fair, which was slated to be held on September 19, was also canceled.

“These are uncertain times,” said Janet Haller who has been the secretary for that Fair for the past 50 years. “With everything going on with the virus, the decision to cancel was made because of safety, liability and just not knowing what will be going on with all this in September.”

Regular fairgoers, such as Lyme resident Briley Brandon are devastated that so many fairs are already canceled, but understands the reasoning behind the hard decisions.

“Some of my best memories are from fairs,” said Brandon. “I used to show beef cattle and I can’t imagine getting them ready all year to show and have it not happen. It’s a shame for people who have put so much work into their farm animals to have to stay home and wait another year to show them off. But it’s understandable that some fairs have canceled. There are so many aspects affected by the fairs being closed from the towns, the fair attendees, the employees, the livestock shows and simply the fun to be had on the weekends. It’s all very sad.”

Many other states such as California and Michigan are witnessing the cancellation of fairs, too. However, the Eastern States Exposition, known as the Big E, is still forging ahead with its 17-day event. The fair representing all six New England states employs over 1,000 people with another 3,500 vendors, concessionaires and outside workers. It is a huge economic driver for the West Springfield, Mass., area, with a record-breaking 1.6 million people come through the gates in 2019.

For more information about the status of Connecticut fairs, visit ctagfairs.org.