At least nine of the 25 Maine agricultural fairs have canceled this year in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and others may follow, the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs reported Saturday.

Executive Director Barry Norris said he thought other fairs would follow suit in the coming week, although the association only represents the fairs, and does not make decisions for them.

The fairs that will postpone until the 2021 season are: the Acton Fair, Harmony Free Fair, Houlton Agricultural Fair, Litchfield Fair, Monmouth Fair, Northern Maine Fair, Ossipee Valley Fair, Topsham Fair and the Waterford World’s Fair.

“The problem that we have is not only the governor’s stay-at-home order, but fairs are far-reaching,” Norris said. “Carnivals come from out of state and carnival workers come from out of state, and people gearing up for fairs have to order supplies. It’s not fair for them if at the last minute they’re told, don’t come,” Norris said in reference to the ever-changing state laws resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

In the Cumberland County Fair, farmers of all kinds compete. Here a giant pumpkin grown by the Maine Department of Agriculture in 2015 weighs in at 502 pounds. Staff photo by Jill Brady Buy this Photo

In addition, Norris said, there is the question of sponsorship that every fair – big and small – counts on for income. With so many businesses temporarily closed or having to lay off staff, sponsorship is uncertain in these times, he said.

But, Norris added, organizers of Maine’s agricultural fairs are considering ways to hold livestock shows online. Virtual livestock shows already have been staged this year in Eire County, New York, and in Clay County, Florida, as a result of the pandemic, Norris said. This precedent for successful interactive livestock shows – allowing 4-H students who have raised sheep, cattle and pigs to still present their livestock to an audience, albeit not a live one – was encouraging, he said.

“The whole industry is excited about the possibilities,” Norris said in a telephone interview. “The industry is trying to look at this in a positive light. Yes, we are in dark times. But we could come out of this better. The fairs that won’t be held this year can carry over their money to next year. It’s a good business decision.”

The organizers of the Skowhegan State Fair – the oldest fair in Maine – are still considering whether to cancel the 2020 fair – and it was held throughout World War II.

First staged in 1818, the fair was first held in Somerset County in what was then the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, according to the fair website. Today it is billed as the longest-standing agricultural fair in the country. The current fairgrounds were acquired in 1856 and the fair has been held at the same location – not far from the Kennebec River – ever since.

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