The Cumberland County Fair and its giant pumpkins, are back this year. Photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

People who’ve been longing for giant pumpkins, fried dough or pig races this fall are in luck.

Almost all of Maine’s fall fairs are back in action this month for the first time since 2019, after a pandemic-induced shutdown last year, and organizers are confident they can go on without major problems. Maine’s fair season begins in June, and by early September, 18 had been held without any reported outbreaks, said Barry W. Norris, executive director of the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs.

The three remaining fairs this year include the Farmington Fair, now through Saturday; the Cumberland County Fair, Sunday through Oct. 2; and Fryeburg Fair, Oct. 3-10.  All are offering the same things they did before the pandemic, including carnival rides, rows of food vendors and barns full of animals. They also offer things you really can’t find anywhere else, including pig scrambles and demolition derbies.

Even though COVID-19 cases have been surging – mostly among unvaccinated people – Mainers have seemed especially eager to get back to their favorite fairs. As of mid-September, every fair but one has seen an increase in attendance of 15 to 20 percent over 2019, said Norris. The one that didn’t was the Union Fair, at least partly because it was unable to secure carnival rides this year, Norris said.

The only scheduled fair that was canceled this year was the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, which had been set to open Friday. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which runs the fair, announced the cancellation Sept. 1, citing the ongoing pandemic and “valuable feedback” from the community.

The Cumberland County Fair – seen here in 2019 – opens Sunday offering an experience pretty close to before the pandemic. Photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

None of the remaining fairs are requiring masks or social distancing, but neither are state officials at this point. Organizers say the fact that most fair events are outdoors – or in open-ended barns or pulling rings – are reasons to feel safe. Health experts say the risk of spreading the virus outdoors is very low, and the scarcity of reported outbreaks outdoors seems to support that.

“Ninety-five percent of our events are outdoors, and I think that helps us immensely,” said Lyle Merrifield, president of the Cumberland Farmers Club, which runs the Cumberland County Fair. “We use about 100 acres for the fairground, and I think the setup of the fair lends itself to people spreading out. Not everyone will be at the same place at the same time.”

The Fryeburg Fair is usually the state’s largest, attracting more than 160,000 people or more during its eight-day run some years. Organizers in Fryeburg have detailed information online about the risks of contracting COVID-19 in any public location and the importance of people assessing their own health risks before they come. At Fryeburg, and at all the fairs this year, there are multiple hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations and signs reminding people to use them.

Fryeburg’s volunteer organizers are also encouraging people to bring masks with them and to wear them indoors or in crowded areas, said Rachel Andrews Damon, who handles publicity and marketing for the fair.

The midway at the Fryeburg Fair will be whirling and twirling again this year, Oct. 3 -10. Photo by Rachel Andrews Damon

Since it’s been a while since these fairs have been held, here’s a reminder of some of the things each offers. As COVID case numbers and guidelines could change, it’s a good idea to check the website of each before heading out. Some of the fairs are dealing with the labor shortage as well, and might be having trouble staffing certain areas. Fryeburg Fair, for instance, is telling people to bring their own strollers, scooters or wheelchairs, as the company that usually rents those won’t be at the fair this year, because of staffing issues.

FARMINGTON FAIR, Sept. 19-25

The 180th Farmington Fair’s highlights include fun with motor vehicles. There’s the annual Drag Your Neighbor race, which is exactly what it sounds like, neighbor racing against neighbor in either cars, vans or pickups. There’s the Maine State Championship Truck and Tractor Pull on Thursday and Friday nights and the Demolition Derby on Saturday night.

There’s also horse racing – and betting – every day, plus a carnival midway of rides and food vendors. As with all the fairs, there are lots of animals to meet in barns and animals to watch as owners or 4-H kids show them off for prizes and ribbons. For more information on the fair, including prices and the full schedule, go to farmingtonfairmaine.com.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY FAIR, Sept. 25-Oct. 2

The 149th Cumberland County Fair, in Cumberland, is known in certain circles for its pig races. Kids raise piglets and teach them to respond to a favorite treat – could be Oreos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, whatever. Then with colorful numbers on their backs, they race each other to see who gets to the treat quickest. The pig races are daily in the early evening most days, except for the final Saturday, Oct. 2, when they are at 12:30 p.m.

The fair might be best known for its Pumpkin Contest, where people bring in giants weighing hundreds of pounds, sometimes 1,000 pounds or more. Weighing begins at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. There’s also a parade Sunday around the fairgrounds, starting at 11 a.m. Some of the daily entertainment includes Maine favorite the Don Campbell Band. For more information on the fair and a complete schedule, go to cumberlandfair.com.

The Woodsmen’s Field Day – seen here in 2019 – is one of the events that will back this year as part of the Fryeburg Fair. Photo by Rachel Andrews Damon

FRYEBURG FAIR, Oct. 3-10

For people who haven’t seen live music in a while, the Fryeburg Fair offers nightly concerts. Maine’s favorite funk band, Motor Booty Affair, plays the Friday night of the fair, Oct. 8. Tom Petty and Beatles tribute bands are also scheduled. The fair’s famous parade is scheduled for Oct. 9 at 10 a.m. at the fairgrounds, with livestock, floats, bands, antique cars and more.

Some of the opening day events on Oct. 3 include the fascinating Sheepdog Trials – those border collies are fast – as well as the Fireman’s Muster and pig scramble. There will be several pig scrambles during the fair, held at the pulling ring, which gets pretty crowded and has a roof over it. There will also be an open-air pig scramble in front of the race track grandstand on Friday, Oct. 8, at 10 a.m.

Monday, Oct. 4, is the fair’s annual Woodsmen’s Field Day, billed as the largest spectator woodsmen’s event in North America. Contestants from across the U.S. and Canada compete, showing off their skills in events like the ax throw, log rolling, standing block chop and crosscut saw. Also that day is the fair’s very popular women’s skillet throw and the anvil toss. The former may have started because of the idea that a woman who could throw a skillet with some accuracy held a certain power over her husband, but no one is quite sure. For more information on the fair, go to fryeburgfair.org.

The Cumberland County Fair will run Sunday through Oct. 2, after a pandemic-induced absence last year. Photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

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