Last June, West Virginia and the nation were facing a growing pandemic which threatened to bring our daily lives to a screeching halt. In light of public safety, many event organizers decided to cancel their gatherings including the hundreds of fairs and festivals hosted around the state. Despite getting approval from the Governor, the State Fair and its board followed suit, canceling the annual event for the first time since World War II. Thankfully, a lot has changed in the last year with the introduction of vaccines and a better understanding of the virus. This has helped keep COVID cases down allowing governments to reopen states and bring our economies back. It also means we can once again enjoy the fairs and festivals that preserve our heritage and bring communities together.
For our state’s farmers this means we can once again celebrate a year’s worth of hard labor and an opportunity to reach new markets. These small agribusinesses rely on fairs and festivals to turn a profit or help their businesses grow. Without these events, our farmers had to be innovative to connect with existing and new customers. Those producers were able to survive the last year and, with the return of these events, can benefit from increased demand and awareness. With an emphasis on local foods, these fairs and festivals are and will continue to be economic drivers for many small communities. That is no different for the State Fair which returns in just a few weeks.
Fairs and festivals also serve as educational opportunities for our young people and as ambassadors to would-be travelers. Many FFA and 4-H students show off their agriculture projects and compete for top prizes. A lot of the dollars earned at these events will be put towards a college savings account. At the same time, those students not involved in agriculture can better understand where our food comes from and how local agriculture impacts their lives. For those non-residents of the Mountain State, these events are an opportunity to see the area and everything it has to offer. They can experience a true sense of Appalachia by pushing past stereotypes and really get to know the great people of the Mountain State.
Most importantly, these events bring our communities together. For many of us, the State Fair serves as a time to relax, enjoy entertainment, learn new ideas and just get to know each other again. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with our fellow citizens and explore new ideas about the world. If there is anything we need coming out of this pandemic, it’s an opportunity to strengthen bonds with our neighbors and friends. Let’s focus on what we have in common as we enjoy the different livestock, rabbits, baby ducks and chickens. Let’s bond over the fun fair rides and the great carnival food. Let’s gift someone a trinket to look back on the fond memories we form.
The State Fair of West Virginia will reopen on August 12 for ten days. As we try to return to a normalcy, it is important that we continue to carry on the traditions of the state. That includes attending the State Fair, as well as the other regional fairs. If you are a regular State Fair attendee, this year’s fair will serve as a reminder of what we have missed. If you have been absent from previous fairs, take time out of your busy schedules, put aside the distractions, pack up the family and head to Lewisburg. Traverse the livestock barns, take part in a honeybee or maple syrup demonstration and support a local farmer by visiting the WVDA Country Store. The Fair board and staff and WVDA employees have been working hard to make it a memorable event. You won’t be disappointed!
Kent A. Leonhardt
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture protects plant, animal and human health through a variety of scientific, regulatory and consumer protection programs. The Commissioner of Agriculture is one of six statewide elected officials who sits on the Board of Public Works.