Harford Farm Fair attendance, events suffered because of inclement weather, organizer says

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Aimee O’Neill, co-chair of the Harford County Farm Fair board of directors, describes this year’s fair as the “Woodstock edition” of the annual celebration.

Organizers had to deal with heavy rains nearly every one of the six days — and thunder and lightning on one of them — of the fair last week at the Harford County Equestrian Center in Bel Air. Bad weather, with rain and mud, were a major issue for organizers of the famed three-day Woodstock music festival in 1969.

Forty-nine years later, rain nearly every day of the 31st annual Harford Farm Fair meant cancellation of most outdoor events, closure of grass parking areas and offers of free or reduced-price admission.

The adverse conditions “provided an excellent opportunity for us to exercise management skills, reacting to adverse conditions and soldiering on with a positive attitude in a very challenging environment,” O’Neill said Wednesday.

“On the days that the sun shone, we had really, really nice crowds and people were able to enjoy the fair that we had to share with them,” she said.

Many of the special activities, which organizers count on to help drive attendance, were canceled, according to O’Neill.

Proceeds are still being tabulated, so she could not release figures as of Wednesday.

“It remains to be seen how it’s going to affect our financial position,” O’Neill said.

Some of the canceled events include the second annual Harford County Chef’s Challenge, scheduled for Tuesday, July 24, and rescheduled for Wednesday, July 25, but it could not happen because chefs from two of the three participating restaurants could not attend the make-up date.

A concert by Dean Crawford & The Dunn’s River Band, and the accompanying dance party, could not happen Friday, July 27, because of a sudden thunderstorm that hit about 90 minutes before the show started.

“It was so severe we had to evacuate the fairgrounds and close the fair for the rest of the night,” O’Neill said.

The Lucas Oil Truck & Tractor Pull, scheduled for the evening of Saturday, July 28, had to be canceled, too, because of the condition of the track and the adjacent grassy parking areas, O’Neill said.

The 51st annual 4-H Livestock Sale did go on as scheduled, raising close to $273,000 for youth members of 4-H and the Future Farmers of America, who sold livestock and crafts at auction.

The Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association show, in which participants riding on horseback shot at targets, also happened, according to O’Neill.

Organizers expect to have a fair in 2019, although the results of this year’s fair make things more challenging, according to O’Neill.

“We are going to be ramping up our efforts to secure sponsorships and pre-sign vendors and just make sure that we can pay our bills,” she said.

The public is invited to the fair board’s Sept. 12 meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Harford County Agricultural Center, in the former Glen Echo Furniture building, in Street.

Board members will announce the dates for next year’s fair and “discuss our process leading up” to the event, O’Neill said.

“We encourage people, while it’s still fresh in their thoughts, to attend and give us feedback and perhaps even decide if they would like to be an active participant in the fair,” she said.

The Farm Fair is both a county fair, with carnival rides, live music, vendors and children’s activities that depend on admission to cover their costs, and an exhibition of projects developed by youths involved in local agriculture through the 4-H program.

Many 4-H exhibitions of livestock raised by young people, as well as their arts and crafts, continued even with the bad weather, as the majority of the exhibitions were indoors or under shelters.

Parent Lisa Maxwell, of the Four Elms Acres farm in Hickory, said older 4-H members worked to support younger members during the exhibitions, and she praised them for helping to keep younger children calm during the Friday evening thunderstorm as people raced to seek shelter.

Her 18-year-old son, Ned, a 2018 graduate of North Harford High School, showed animals in the livestock auction Saturday evening, along with fellow 4-Hers. Her daughter, Anne, aged out of the program in 2017.

Maxwell said exhibitions at the fair help the public learn more about agriculture and counter negative perceptions about the industry, such as stories of livestock abuse.

“This is not only the future of agriculture, this is the future of our society as a whole,” she said of 4-H.

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