The 180th edition of the Fonda Fair is set to begin Wednesday, with a lineup of exhibits, rides and events that the Montgomery County Agricultural Society had planned to include in last year’s fair, but couldn’t because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
“We are basically having the 2020 fair in 2021, so all of the preparation we had in place for the 2020 fair we just put on the backburner, and we are now moving forward with those plans for this year’s fair,” Montgomery County Agricultural Society President Richard Kennedy said.
According to the Fonda Fair’s website the 2021 event will “comply with all COVID-19 guidelines.”
Since the rise of the delta variant of the coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended even individuals who have been vaccinated should wear masks during indoor gatherings, but no state or local mandate exists requiring them. The Fonda Fair has both outdoor and indoor events.
According to the New York state Department of Health, 59.3% of Montgomery County residents have had at least 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but nearby Fulton County ranks last in the Mohawk Valley Region with only 46.7% of residents having received one dose of vaccine.
On Saturday, Montgomery County residents had 17 new positive tests of COVID-19, a positivity rate of 5% based on 337 tests given, up slightly from Friday when there were 14 positive tests out of 332 tests given, a positivity rate of 4.21%.
The fair is set to open on Wednesday at 8 a.m. with some of the agricultural contests, including:
- A judging by the Fruits & Vegetables Department
- An Open Poultry Show
- A 4-H “rabbit judging”
- A flower, grange and creation arts and crafts judging
- A dairy breeding contest
- A tractor pull
- An antique show and judging
- A “Horse Costume Class”
All of that will take place before the Midway opens at 1 p.m., with $25 unlimited ride wristbands for sale. General admission cost is $12, but Wednesday is “Children & Seniors Citizens Day” with $5 admission for seniors 62 years old or older and free admission for children 14 years old and younger.
On Wednesday, in honor of the “Think Different Day” campaign for autism awareness, rides will operate with minimal lights and ride sounds.
Kennedy said throughout the course of the fair, which runs until Sept. 6, fairgoers should expect to see the things they missed out on last year.
“All of the grand stand events, so tractor pulls, truck pulls, demolition derbies, the monster truck show, all of the things we normally do, every day and every evening,” he said. “We weren’t able to do any of that [in 2020] due to the mass gathering restrictions last year. We also couldn’t have any of the cattle and horse shows that we normally do during the fair. The 4-H could not have any shows. We couldn’t have any of the exhibits we normally have, so all of those things that were restricted last year because of mass gatherings, we’re moving forward with this year.”
One thing that will be new in the 2021 Fonda Fair is allowing out-of-county livestock exhibits for the first time, including sheep goats, hogs and swine. Exhibit space will be “first come, first serve” with Montgomery and Fulton counties having preference, according to the fondafair.com website.
For the 179th Fonda Fair, only 11 food vendors were allowed on the fairgrounds, people were required to wear masks and social distance, and there was no admission fee.
Kennedy said on a normal year, the Fonda Fair expects to attract about 70,000 people. He said he never got a head count on attendance in 2020, but he knows it wasn’t good.
“It was certainly a huge financial impact, not only to the fairgrounds, but to the surrounding businesses, the gas stations, the restaurants, the hotels — everybody lost tens of thousands of dollars,” Kennedy said. “The economic impact of the fairgrounds, it roughly is about half a million dollars into the area, and it’s a large financial investment for the Montgomery County Agricultural Society to host a fair every year. At the end of the day, our plan with the fair every year is to at least break even and have a little bit left over to make improvements in the fair for next year.”
Kennedy said there was a financial hit to the Montgomery County Agricultural Society in 2020, which owns the fairgrounds, but did not provide exact figures. He described the truncated 2020 food Fonda Fair as essentially a “wash” for the organization because some expenses were also lower.
“We did not file for any pandemic relief money. We attempted one time, but unfortunately by the time we actually filed for it the money was already gone,” he said. “There were a lot of loopholes in that, and also a lot of times you had to pay the money back after you go it, so it was more of a loan than actual relief money.”
Kennedy said the Montgomery County Agricultural Society was able to keep itself “financially afloat” last year because the entity has been working to market the Fonda Fairgrounds for other non-fair related events like horse shows and cattle shows, as well as “barrel racing.” He said a variety of events were held at the Fonda Fairgrounds between June and October last year and so far this year, all within the COVID-19 guidelines of the CDC.
“We have essentially become the barrel racing capitol of the Northeast,” he said.
Barrel racing is a rodeo event, typically involving women riding horses competing for the fastest time through a preset zigzag pattern of barrels.
Kennedy said over the past several years, the Fonda Fairgrounds has hosted the Midland Barrel Racing group, the New York Reined Cow Horse Association, the [New York State] Saddle Horse Association and the Otesaga Herkimer Montgomery Holstein Club, with each organization holding events occupying the fairgrounds about once per month.
“Virtually every weekend we have some kind of livestock or horse show or agricultural event going on down there,” he said.