State Fair to stress agriculture [Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.]
(Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 23--Richmond Times-Dispatch
The State Fair of Virginia, which kicks off Friday, is getting back to its roots.
The 10-day event is under a new ownership structure this
year, and organizers are putting a greater focus on the fair's agricultural history.
The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, which previously had been a 50 percent owner of the fair, bought the remaining share earlier this year. The 150-year-old fair has changed hands three times since its longtime operator filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2011 after failing to pay about $75
million in loans.
"It was a huge relief when we were able to control it and really involve our people and our ideas and really to let the Farm Bureau run this thing the way we want," said Virginia Farm Bureau spokesman Greg Hicks.
"We can call the shots now on what we want to do, and that's the biggest thing," Hicks said.
The fair was operated last year by the Farm Bureau and
Tennessee-based Universal Fairs LLC.
Hicks said that while he believes Universal Fairs was a good partner, the two groups had "different philosophies" and making decisions involved a more lengthy process. The Farm Bureau, for example, had a greater desire to promote agriculture than did Universal Fairs, Hicks said.
So now, the focus on agriculture will be enhanced this year and in coming years on the 331-acre site at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County.
"Farm Bureau is like agriculture on steroids," Hicks said.
Spectators will be able to see about 1,600 animals as part of livestock competitions by Future Farmers of America and the 4-H youth development organization, in which students will compete for nearly $100,000 in scholarship money. The competitions were not held last year.
New this year is a "seed survivor" educational display, teaching children how to raise crops, for example, as well as "moo u tours" in which guides will take fair goers through a tour of livestock competitions.
Flicks said some of the events aim "to help bridge the gap between the consumer and the farmer."
Attendees will also be able to feed grizzly bears for the first time, and see various breeds of horses up close.
There will be 55 rides, 224 vendors, 25 games and more than 20 shows and attractions this year, Flicks said. The estimated cost of running the fair was not available Friday
Assuming fair weather, organizers are expecting a total of 200,000 to 250,000 visits this year, according to Flicks. There were an estimated 160,000 visits last year, compared with nearly 270,000 a year prior.
While organizers have had little time to map a long-term plan for the site, Flicks said the fair site will be used throughout much of the year to ensure profitability and agriculture promotion.
With Caroline being the home county of legendary racehorse Secretariat, Flicks believes horse lovers can be attracted to the site from near and far,
throughout the year.
"We really want to make this a destination for horse lovers around the world," Flicks said, adding that there's "a cult following" for Secretariat akin to Elvis fans.
Flicks said the branch of the Farm Bureau that operates the fair is in the process of applying for nonprofit status. Fie said he's confident that status will be granted, which would allow the organization to accept donations.
To have success raising donations, Flicks said the organization will have to do a good job of marketing, distinguishing the farming advocacy branch of the Farm Bureau from the branch that sells insurance.
Flicks said promotion of the fair has improved this year, as organizers have saturated the market with print and broadcast advertising, connecting with a broad audience through social media, and hitting the streets to spread the word.
The bus was greeted in Mechanicsville on Thursday by a long line of people vying for free tickets. One hundred tickets (one per person) were given out within a few minutes, and some in line were turned away
"We were mobbed when we got here," Flicks said with a laugh.
Wanda West, of King William County, was too late to get free tickets, but she said that won't keep her from attending the fair -- a longtime family tradition.
"We'll be there," West said.
Fler 15-year-old daughter, Savannah West, said she has been going as long as she can remember. She said she's a fan of the rides in particular, and while she's excited by the idea of free-falling onto an inflatable airbag, she said she plans to examine it carefully before committing.
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