Fairs continue under COVID-19 restrictions

Cassidy Dopp, 19, and Hannah Wozniak, 20, enjoy a scaled-down version of the Fonda Fair on Friday.
Cassidy Dopp, 19, and Hannah Wozniak, 20, enjoy a scaled-down version of the Fonda Fair on Friday.

FONDA — The Fonda Fair and the Altamont Fair are set for this weekend, using a trimmed down schedule that focuses on what’s allowed under COVID-19 restrictions, instead of what isn’t.

Montgomery County Agricultural Society President Richard Kennedy said the 179th edition of the Fonda Fair will focus on food.

“Unfortunately, as everyone knows, we can’t have a regular fair, because of the rides and the crowds, however, we are able to have a food fair,” Kennedy said. “So, all of the local favorite food menus that people know and love at the Fonda Fair will be here. We’ve got 11 different food vendors, everything from cotton candy to candy apples, to fried dough to bloomin’ onions, to fudge, to steak sandwiches, pizza, all of the things people love to come to the fair to eat are going to be here this weekend.”

The Fonda Fair opened Friday with free admission from 3 to 9 p.m., and is open Saturday from 3 to 9 p.m. and then on Sunday from Noon-4 p.m. There is no admission for all three days.

Kennedy said the Fonda Fair asks anyone who comes onto the grounds to wear a mask and practice safe social distancing.

“There are tables on the grounds that people can eat at that are set six feet apart, or they can take some food back to their car and their vehicle,” he said.

Also on Sunday, the Fonda Fair is sponsoring the 7th Annual Convoy for a Cause, starting at 11 a.m. at BBL Trucking & Excavating in Fort Plain. The convoy will feature hundreds of decked-out trucks driving from Fort Plain to the Fonda Fairgrounds.

All money raised this year will go to help a local woman with leukemia complete expensive chemotherapy in New York City. Alyssa Parrino, a 22-year-old from Canajoharie, had been cancer-free for almost a year, but was diagnosed again with leukemia this spring.

“She’ll be traveling to New York City in the next couple of weeks for a complete bone marrow transplant and unfortunately this time her insurance is not covering any of her expenses, so she’s going to have hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical  bills,” Kennedy said. “So, we thought it was a very worthy cause to raise as much money as we possibly can to help Alyssa with her battle against leukemia.

The Altamont Fair, which will feature food, farm animals and games, opened Friday with $5 cash admission and will be open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. According to the fair’s website, altamontfair.com, many of the vendors will accept credit cards, but the fair organizers encourage people to bring cash in the possible event of a “WiFi malfunction.”

“We are teaming up with Cornell Cooperative Extension to showcase the 4-H program,” reads altamontfair.com. “The 4-H kids will have their projects on display as well as farm animals on Saturday and Sunday. We will have various animals on display on various days — lambs, chickens, calves, rabbits and goats.”

Kennedy said the Fonda Fair has been held in good years and bad, during two world wars, after the devastating flood in 2011, and the members of his board felt it would be good to hold the food fair for the event’s long time food vendors and for the devoted fans of the Fonda Fair.

“We usually have about 70,000 people who come throughout the six days of the fair, and it’s several millions of dollars that are generated through the county, not only at the fair but also at the local restaurants, convenience stores, the hotels,” he said. “There are millions of dollars that are spent here during the fair, so overall … it’s been a very detrimental loss to the community, not to mention for employment. During fair week we employ 50 and 100 employees at the fair, depending on the year, depending on the need between security, and parking, and garbage and maintenance and the concessions etc, so all of those people lost their income for this year as well.”

Kennedy said the Montgomery County Agricultural Society had to borrow over $500,000 after the flooding in 2011 just to keep the operation going. He said the nonprofit finally paid off the debt two years ago, and has tried to build up money since then, but will need to borrow money again to overcome the losses from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, which cost the organization revenues from the Fonda Speedway. He said it costs $50,000 annually just for the insurance for the agricultural society to own the fair grounds and pay for employees, and workers compensation insurance, to maintain the facility.

Tough times

Tough times for the local agricultural fairs have mirrored tough times for farmers in general.

According to the New York Farm Bureau’s survey of 500 of its members these are among the impacts of the COVID-19 on New York state agriculture:

  • 43% of farms have lost sales during the pandemic
  • 37% are experiencing cash flow problems
  • 47% say they have reduced spending to local vendors and suppliers or will do so in the future
  • 84% have a plan in place to train and assist their employees to mitigate the spread of the virus
  • 46% of respondents say they are concerned about their mental health or that of someone they know

New York state, as of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s 2017 survey, was one of the leading agricultural states in the U.S., accounting for $5.75 billion in sales revenue. New York had 33,438 farms, 98 percent of them family owned, totaling 6.9 million acres in production, employing 55,363 people, with dairy and milk production accounting for nearly 26,000 jobs.

Dairy dominates New York’s top agricultural products, milk being the highest, and New York ranks No. 1 nationally for yogurt, cottage cheese and sour cream.

But times were very tough for farmers even before the coronavirus pandemic.

Kennedy said farmers know all about lost income, and the last few years have been brutal for Montgomery County agriculture and tough for his own family farm.

“We are dairy farmers, but unfortunately, due to the economy, after three generations, we sold our dairy cows last July,” he said. “We still raise cattle. We raise hay, corn, soybeans so we’re still heavily involved in agriculture. We just aren’t milking cows anymore — we had around 150 head total. We sold them all. We are done with dairy. I don’t see how in the current financial climate we could start dairy farming again.”

“With milk prices being at one of the all time lows, and the cost of production being extremely high, it doesn’t make any sense to trying to start in the dairy business today,” he said.

Categories: Fulton | Montgomery | Schoharie, News

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