A grange member works on an agricultural exhibit at the Farmington Fair last year. This year, many nonprofits are taking a financial hit from the fair’s cancellation. File photo

FARMINGTON — When officials announced earlier this month that the Farmington Fair was canceled, for many it meant a loss of income and no chance to show off their accomplishments this year.

The Franklin County Agricultural Society (FCAS) operates the fair and this was to be the 180th fair. FCAS is governed by five trustees – Chairman Rupert Pratt, Tom White, Glenda Barker, Terry Mosher and Craig Jordan – and four officers: President Randy Hall, Vice President Tom Sawyer, Treasurer Marcus Rowe and Secretary Neal Yeaton.

In a phone interview, Yeaton said about 1,500 exhibitors enter items in the Exhibition Hall. 24 dairy/beef farms, 40 poultry farms/individuals, eight sheep owners, 22 goat farms and 15-20 steer/oxen owners show their animals at the fair, he added.

“Between 46 and 48 individuals participate in the pulling contests, 20 of those with horses,” Yeaton said. “About 100 people work parking cars, at the gate, in the Exhibition Hall and at the parimutuel races.”

Just under 25,000 attend the fair and that doesn’t include vendors and exhibitors with passes, he added.

Many Maple Avenue residents get an income boost by allowing off-fair parking in their yards.

Annually, the fair pays out $75,000 in premiums, $80,000 in wages for fair week and $250,000 for the horse racing, Treasurer Marcus Rowe said in a phone interview.

“It’s going to be a big hurt for the county, no question about it,” he said.

“All of our money comes from a tax on the races,” Yeaton said. “With no racing, no betting this summer, the stipend wasn’t being generated. That played a big part in fairs cancelling. We have some money set aside, but if we did just the racing there would be no money to start next year.”

Several nonprofits depend on their presence at the fair to earn operating costs.

For Roderick-Crosby American Legion Post 28, Bingo and Lucky 7 at the fair are the biggest fundraiser of the year.

“We put the most man-hours into those,” Commander Matthew Smith said. “It’s going to be really, really hard to replace. After expenses, we bring in about $2,000 on the Bingo. We count on that and the Lucky 7 to pay the post’s heating oil for the year.

“We have to seek alternative fundraisers this year. It’s a challenge.”

The American Legion is looking at setting up in the post’s driveway on High Street, Sept. 20-26, the week that the fair would have been held, to sell fair food.

“Chicken barbecue similar to what the fire department used to do, doughboys, French fries,” Smith said. “We’re hoping to get passersby, looking to give them their fair fare.

“People are going to miss that week.”

Farmington Grange, located at 124 Bridge Street in West Farmington, operates a food booth in the Exhibition Hall. A recent Facebook post noted the Grange may have to close this winter due to lack of income. The Grange is home to the winter farmers market.

“The past few years, we’ve taken in about $2,000,” member Marion Sharoun said. “It pays for the heat through the winter.

“We’re not able to set up our agricultural display that we love to do. It won’t seem the same.

“It’s sad, we’ve decided we probably can’t keep the building open. We’re concerned with where the winter farmers market would go.”

Eight to ten Grange members man the food booth with about the same numbers bringing their produce, canning, etc for the display.

“Plus all the baking,” Sharoun said. “We get together beforehand to bake and freeze the pies.”

The fair is the Grange’s biggest fundraiser, Master Bonnie Clark said.

“We rent the hall two or three times a month,” she said. “We don’t have enough members to approach all the hall costs. All dues go to the Maine State Grange.

“With very little coming in, we have to rethink. There are a lot of different ways the hall could be used. The large commercial kitchen space available downstairs was designed for people just starting out, to decide if they wanted to invest.

“The farmers market would like to continue, but we need more to keep open. Heating is the big issue.”

A lot of other benevolent societies are in the same boat, she added.

For Grange hall rentals call Clark, 207-778-6637, or Sharoun, 207-778-2932. Donations to Farmington Grange #12 can be sent to treasurer, Gerry Libby, 381 Mosher Hill Road, Farmington, Maine 04938.

The Exhibition Hall hires staff to set up and tear down, act as judges, Barker said.

“We have a lot of workers Friday and Saturday when items are entered,” she said. “There’s a lot more to it than what people know about.”

Workers are needed for car parking, garbage pickup, security, Barker added.

The Starbird Building has 71 rental spaces, with about 50 renters annually. Each 10 by 10 foot space has a back wall and power and rents for $300, Wright, who oversees the building, said.

“Six or seven vendors rent three slots,” he said. “I keep in good contact with the vendors, call them in April for first refusal.

“They were very positive in April when I told them it looked pretty bleak regarding holding the fair. (Cancelling) was no surprise.”

Farmington native Wright returned after retiring from the Army. He was manager of Northern Lights and a vendor at the fair for 15 years.

“I’ve been on their side of the table as a retail guy for Northern Lights, and understand,” he said. “I changed the requirement of needing to be there 24/7.

“I’m the first face seen in the morning, the last one at 9 p.m. I put in 14 hour days, I keep it clean and neat. If the vendors have a problem, it’s my problem too.

“There’s a lot of behind the scene stuff that goes on.”

One vendor, Misty Acres Alpacas owned by Red and Connie Laliberte of Sydney, has sold alpaca clothing at the Farmington Fair for seven years.

“Fleece is sent to a cooperative in Fall River, Massachusetts, and a lot of the fiber goes back to Peru,” Red said during a phone interview. “95% of our product is made in Peru. We offer a full line of products. Sweaters, hats, gloves.

“This is a really tough year,” he said. “Our major source of income for the farm comes from fairs, flower shows, Christmas craft fairs. Everything has been canceled until November, probably the first of the year when a COVID-19 vaccine is available.”

Clothing sales last year at the Farmington Fair were about $8,000, Laliberte said.

“Decreasing our herd size from 125 to 68 last year was a blessing,” he noted. “We will hold on to what we have now. We usually sell some animals, but probably not so much this year.

“We’ll be okay, we’ll survive. I’m retired, my wife still works out.”

Dawn Brown of New Sharon cares for orphaned bear cubs. Last year she sold photographs, such as this one with of the bears, at the Farmington Fair. She will have to find other ways to market her pictures this year. Dawn L. Brown

Dawn Brown of New Sharon, was in the Starbird Building for the first time last year, Wright said.

For more than 20 years, Brown has cared for orphaned bear cubs. She photographs the bears and sells the pictures under A Bear’s Second Chance.

“I say, ‘I photograph the very bears I care for and observe.’ I pretty much raise them, observe their behavior patterns,” she said. “Hopefully they can be released back into the wild eventually.”

“I think any fair, gun show, craft fair closure affects vendors drastically,” she said. “Every vendor out there counts on them, being able to do those.”

Pictures such as this one by Dawn Brown of New Sharon, doing business as A Bear’s Second Chance, were sold in the Starbird Building during the Farmington Fair last year. Dawn L. Brown

The Farmington Fair has some 40 outdoor vendor spots rented for an average $400 per spot, Pratt said.

“The Society is doing some summer work, but not hiring crews,” he said. “We’re losing out on summer rentals that bring in a few thousand dollars. Most things have been canceled.”

Young people enrolled in Franklin County Cooperative Extension’s 4-H programs are also hard hit with the fair’s cancellation.

“We have 98 youth enrolled in the 4-H program here in Franklin County, Community Education Assistant Judy Smith said in an email. “There are roughly 50% that exhibit in some way. About 50% exhibit in the hall. Approximately 40% show livestock, with about 15% showing multiple commodities.”

Mason Rowe of New Vineyard has been a 4-H member for seven years, his brother Nicholas for five. They are members of the Franklin County 4-H Dairy and Supper on the Table 4-H clubs. They, their sister and cousins always raise pigs, lambs, meat birds and turkeys to show at the Farmington Fair.

With the Farmington Fair cancellation, 4-H members have had to find other ways to market their animals. Mason Rowe at right is seen with the Reserve Grand Champion market hog he showed last year. Also seen is show judge Mitchell White. Submitted photo

According to an email, the Rowe extended family exhibits at Skowhegan Fair, Windsor Fair, Farmington Fair ( just for the 4-H auction) and the Fryeburg Fair. They show dairy cattle and Khathadin sheep.

“This year I raised a beef steer and hog for Skowhegan, and a hog and lamb for Windsor,” Mason wrote.

“I raised a hog for Skowhegan and Windsor and a lamb for Fryeburg, Nicholas wrote.

Not having the fairs “really stinks because not only do we not get to see all our friends, but we don’t get to show off all of our work in raising these animals,” Mason said.

“We put a lot of work and time in to them to be the best and to not be able to take them to see how good we have done is disappointing,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas Rowe of New Vineyard planned to auction some of his 4-H animals at Farmington Fair this year. He is seen with his market hog and judge Mitchell White at the fair last year. Submitted photo

“Our lambs and steer have to be walked every day, usually it’s twice a day. Plus we shear the lambs every two-three weeks until show, then we do it more often,” Mason noted. “Everything gets fed twice a day morning and night too. Grain, hay and fresh water.”

“We also wet them down after we walk them. We clean the pigs out every other day and lambs weekly. The pigs we all sit in the pen with them so they get used to us. We feed them cookies or marshmallows to make them come to us,” Nicholas added.

In place of the auctions, the Rowes contacted their buyers and made arrangements with them to get the animals to the butcher. The buyers were very understanding and more than willing to help out, according to the email.

“I think they were just as disappointed as we are to not be able to have our auction this year,” Mason said.

“They like to talk to all of us and ask us questions about our animals. They talk to us about how much money we have put into them to get to the point of the show/auction and other stuff,” Nicholas added.

“Fairs are fun, we probably have more friends at the fairs than anywhere. Every year we look forward to going so we can all talk about who had the best animals and who is going to win,” Mason said. “We are all like a big family.”

“After we get our work done during the day, we get to hang out and play games or do other things. We usually help other farms do work if ours is done,” Nicholas said.

In a phone call Wednesday, July 29, Amber Leah Smith of East Dixfield said she would miss her fair family and being able to hang out with her friends.

Smith shows beef, dairy and sheep in the 4-H and open shows. This year she would have exhibited a Beef Shorthorn and Belted Galloway beef heifer plus three Ayrshire yearlings in dairy. She raised a baby beef steer and two market lambs with plans to sell them at the Union Fair auction.

4-H member Amber Leah Smith of East Dixfield shows beef, dairy and sheep at state and national fairs. She had to find new ways to sell her auction animals this year after fairs were canceled. She is seen at center with her Beef Shorthorn heifer at a fair last year. Submitted photo

“I was able to sell them, but all the expenses, I’m not making any of those back to buy new animals,” she said. “I’ve also lost the checks from showing.”

Purchasing the steer cost $750 and feed costs were estimated at $2,500, she said.

“I usually get $2.75-$3.50 a pound at the auction. The steer’s weight runs between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds when sold,” she said.

“It cost about $250 to buy the market lamb. Feed costs were about $700. They usually sell for $2.75-$4 per pound. Their weight is usually between 90 and 175 pounds.”

Smith also spends time during fair week volunteering in the Beef Boosters food booth.

“The money raised is used for trips,” she said. “Last year we went to Kentucky.”

The Franklin County 4-H Beef Club spent nearly two years fundraising for their trip last fall to Louisville, Kentucky, to attend NAILE (North American International Livestock Exposition). Jr. Members of the Belted Galloway Society, including Smith, were able to show while there.

There may be some hope for those that enjoy fair food. Yeaton said officials are in discussion with vendors about coming in and setting up.

“They would be there Sunday, closing Saturday if we do it,” he said.

“Possibly King and Queen French Fries, the sausage vendor,” Barker said. “They’d have to have insurance, pay for electricity.

“Everyone wants King and Queen French Fries!”

 

 

 


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