Sue Bowman Rural Ramblings

Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In the case of the 2020 Lebanon Area Fair, both its name and the aromas of livestock and traditional fair foods wafting through the fairgrounds will remain, but the fair’s format will be a major departure from the usual.

I look forward to my home county’s fair every year for the same reasons many other folks do. It’s a fun time to roam through exhibits, visit with old friends and, of course, enjoy some favorite fair foods. I freely admit to being addicted to the Lebanon County Dairy Promotion’s coffee milkshakes, an annual staple at the fair. I have one each time I’m on the fairgrounds, no matter how long the line is.

After hearing that Ag Progress Days, the All-American Dairy Show and KILE had been canceled, I assumed the 2020 Lebanon Area Fair would meet the same fate. Fortunately, I was wrong.

At a time when many local fairs in Pennsylvania and beyond have canceled their events in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lebanon Area Fair’s board of directors chose the road not taken and decided to hold a basic event. In many ways, it hearkens back to the fair’s earlier days. Fair chairman Dan Siegel pointed out, “Our primary goal this year is to provide a venue where our youth can show the projects that they have worked so hard on completing.”

Gone are the indoor and outdoor commercial displays, track events, midway shows, rides, carnival games and open classes for competitors, all of which are designed to attract, amuse and educate fairgoers. What’s left is youth exhibiting their livestock and small animals, as well as displaying their talents in a wide variety of arts, crafts and skills projects. The single biggest difference will be the absence of spectators at the fairgrounds during fair week, July 25 though Aug. 1.

Livestock and small animal events are being scheduled in such a way that all animal penning and shows will take place in open air barns. In most cases, animals will arrive and leave the fairgrounds the same day. Admission to the fairgrounds for these events will be limited to the participating youth, their parents or guardians and siblings, all of whom will be required to wear masks while on the premises and socially distance. These shows will be livestreamed on Facebook in real-time for those who can’t attend.

Youths with indoor exhibits dropped them off on July 24 or 25 and will retrieve them on Aug. 1. These exhibits won’t be available for viewing, but judging results will be posted online at the fair’s website, www.lebanonareafair.com.

I touched base with fair publicity chairperson, Emily Summey, to see how registrations have been for this year’s fair, which requires that all participants be 4-H or FFA members. Typically, the Lebanon Area Fair attracts 800 to 900 exhibitors of all ages, who display 6,500 to 8,000 exhibits. This year’s youth-only show still features plenty of competition, with nearly 300 members of the younger generation entering 1,327 exhibits.

Several favorite fair activities will go on with revised formats. The annual ham and chicken barbecue dinners benefiting Lebanon County 4-H and FFA are once again sellouts with 2,500 or more advance tickets sold for each; however, this year both are being held as drive-thru events. I’ll miss floating around the North Hall dining area saying hi to folks I know, but Dennis and I are just glad we won’t have to miss out on these tasty feasts for such a good cause.

And speaking of fair food, there will be a “mini-Midway” food court with everything packaged to go, including my beloved milkshakes. It will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on July 25, 26 and Aug. 1, as well as from 4 to 8 p.m. on July 27-31 for customers to drive in, park and visit the stands of their choice to get their fair food fixes as carry-outs.

Instead of the annual auctions of 4-H and FFA project animals, this year’s exhibitors will benefit from donations made to them online at www.sconlinesales.com. After logging in and signing on, supporters can donate as little as $25 or any larger amount they desire to individual exhibitors.

Another tradition is the fireworks display on the fair’s final night. It takes place this year at 9:15 p.m. on Aug. 1, with spectators invited to come in their cars, park on the fairgrounds and watch the show in a socially distanced way from the parking area.

The 2020 Lebanon Area Fair will be one for the history books, to be sure. It’s been a leap of faith for Dan Siegel, the fair board and its committees.

“This has been a very interesting year to plan for,” Dan told me.

Longtime fair workers are experts at their annual jobs, but this year required different and more preparations than ever to assure the fair could be conducted safely, in compliance with applicable COVID-19-related regulations.

Dan particularly salutes the generosity of the fair’s sponsors, nearly all of whom were onboard with continuing their support for the fair’s 2020 revised format, even without the usual advertising exposure. Their sponsorship money allows the fair to pay premiums to its youth competitors and put on the livestock shows and indoor exhibits.

“Words cannot express how thankful we are for our sponsor base,” he said.

Dan sums it up like this: “As an entire fair community, we are going to have a lot to be proud of once that last firework goes off, concluding a safe and successful fair week. I think the stubborn Dutchman has come out in all of us and we refuse to quit.”

I agree and say a big “Thanks!” to all involved.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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