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Organizers say new format for Harford Farm Fair was a success

The 2017 Harford County Farm Fair, with its extended schedule and new events, was a major hit with exhibitors, volunteers and the community on its 30th anniversary, says Aimee O'Neill, co-chair of the fair board.

"We had, from all accounts, a very successful fair," O'Neill said Sunday, as she and other organizers and exhibitors spent Sunday cleaning up the fairgrounds at the Harford County Equestrian Center off of Tollgate Road in Bel Air.

The fair, which was extended from its usual four days to six days, ran from Monday through Saturday.

"We have yet to have received a negative comment with respect to our new format of Monday through Saturday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.," O'Neill said.

She said she heard a number of comments from the public, as well as 4-H youth exhibitors and the families, a number of good comments about the change in schedule.

People said it gave them more time to enjoy the fair without having to squeeze it into their schedules — more parents of 4-Hers could attend their children's shows, too, she said.

"Most importantly, the [4-H] families were able to participate with less stress on their regular schedules," O'Neill said.

Visitors also gave high marks to the new admission pricing structure, which O'Neill called "wildly successful."

Admission was $5 Monday through Thursday, and children 12 and younger were admitted free. Admission was $8 for adults Friday and Saturday, and children 12 and under were still admitted for free.

O'Neill noted children 4 years old and under were admitted free in prior years, and the change to under 12 made it "that much easier to bring a group of children in."

"It was just more economically comfortable," she said.

A number of families made their first visits to the fair, plus there were many returning families, to O'Neill said.

She also said the new carnival vendor, Oscar's Amusements of Douglassville, Pa., was "well received."

"We heard from folks that they liked the rides and they noticed that the carnival was that much more attractive for them," she said.

People could enjoy the traditional aspects of the fair, such as the carnival rides and games, the 4-H livestock shows that culminated in the annual livestock auction Saturday evening, the tractor pulls and food, arts and craft vendors.

There were a number of new aspects this year, too, in honor of the fair's 30th anniversary. Some new events and attractions included a chef's challenge involving local restaurant chefs, a performance by the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association, the new carnival ride operator and sales of alcoholic beverages.

Visitors could purchase beer from Independent Brewing Co., rye whiskey from White Tiger Distillery and wine from Harford Vineyards later in the week.

O'Neill said "there was not a single incident" related to alcohol, and she heard from many people who appreciated having it at the fair.

"We just shook a lot of things up, and it seems like we got a good salad out of it," she said.

O'Neill said the "core expenses," such as shuttle transportation, portable toilets and electricity were higher because of the longer fair.

The revenues and attendance numbers are still being tabulated, but the carnival itself produced about $60,000 in gross revenue, she said.

O'Neill said she and the other members of the board's executive committee — O'Neill, co-chair Amy McClaskey and secretary/treasurer Alice Archer — will recommend that the full board approve the same format for next year.

"The general option that I have heard is the format is a good format for all components of the fair," she said.

A concert featuring country music singer Eric Paslay, along with Jamie O'Neal and Bobby and Teddi Cyrus, was held last Friday, July 21, at the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College to celebrate the fair's 30th anniversary.

The Harford County government partnered with Visit Harford, using funds from the county's hotel tax revenues, to put on the concert.

"I was really pleased with that," County Executive Barry Glassman said Sunday. "It had just a nice kind of Harford County family feel to it."

Glassman, a longtime supporter of the fair, said he believes this year's fair went well.

"It just foretells that we have a lot more years left for the farm fair," he said.

The county executive, who raises sheep, sponsored the 4-H sheep show at the fair, plus he bought several sheep and the grand champion turkey at Saturday's auction.

He and his son are former 4-hers, as well; Glassman called 4-H the "anchor" for the fair.

"The whole thing that makes it special is the county's livestock and the families and the 4-H auction and so forth, so that's something we've got to keep going," he said.

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