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State fairs find ways to promote local agriculture despite cancelations

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There are many food safety risks associated with fairs and carnivals; mobile and temporary vendors can lack clean workstations, there aren’t always sinks for employees to wash their hands or even gloves for employees to use when handling food, and vendors might not have refrigeration on-site for raw ingredients or precooked foods.

This year, many state and county fairs across the U.S. have been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but those in charge are still finding ways to promote and recognize local agriculture.

For the New York State Fair, this is only the second time it has had to cancel in its nearly 140-year history, the first was during World War II.

“We are proud to put on the Great New York State Fair and provide a showcase for the best of New York agriculture, but our No. 1 concern is always the health and safety of our fairgoers, vendors and staff,” said New York State Fair Director Troy Waffner.

Other state fairs have had to get creative about how they will showcase their state’s agriculture. This past month the Washington State Fair had three weekends where fair food vendors sold food via drive thru. The Iowa State Fair is running similar weekend events called “Taste of the Fair Food,” where attendees can social distance and support local food vendors. The Ohio State Fair has posted a series of recipes so that those who are missing fair food can enjoy it at home.

Perhaps one of the more unique responses to cancellation is the California State Fair’s “Digital Festival.” Visitors are encouraged to go to a website and take part in various activities, including a Fair Twitch hangout, a pet look-alike contest, satellite horse wagering and more. The fair is also promoting its local agriculture by offering free virtual company tours of last year’s commercial winners in the winery, brewery, cheese and olive oil categories.

Though the Texas State Fair was also canceled, organizers recognize the importance of the fair for agriculture and livestock.

“Although the 2020 State Fair of Texas is canceled due to the current landscape related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fair is committed to offering youth livestock participation opportunities in a safe environment for our exhibitors and staff, to carry-on our nonprofit mission of promoting agriculture, education and community involvement,” said a fair spokesperson.

In a similar mode to Texas, the Missouri State Fair is pivoting from its usual state fair to having only its youth livestock show, scheduled for mid-August. The fair’s cancellation press release says, “The fair will continue to allow the invaluable agriculture education experience to Missouri 4-H and FFA members by offering a Youth Livestock Show only.”

Though every state fair director and organizer conveyed their disappointment at the canceling of their fairs, they expressed their optimism for resuming regular fair activities in 2021.

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