Behind the scenes financial trouble, dissent among volunteers, and the introduction of nontraditional elements have threatened to cast a pall over the Harford County Farm Fair as the annual agricultural heritage showcase prepares for its 25th anniversary celebration this summer.
But organizers assert the Farm Fair, one of the most high profile and highly attended events on the Harford County calendar, has its finances back in order and that participants and spectators alike will enjoy the mix of traditional values and modern events coming to the Equestrian Center this July.
In recent years, Harford County Farm Fair, Inc., the nonprofit, volunteer-run organization responsible for putting together the event, has requested tens of thousands of dollars in supplemental funding from Harford County government; denied subsequent government requests to provide a financial audit; and fallen out of good standing with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation after its treasurer resigned and failed to file the requisite tax documents. In the planning stages for this year’s event, at least one member of the Board of Directors didn’t think the Farm Fair could go forward and resigned in protest.
Despite the apparent disarray, organizers believe the 2012 Farm Fair, scheduled for July 26 to July 29, will be a memorable one – by continuing to do what it has done best for the last quarter-century (tractors, livestock, fireworks), while also introducing new, and potentially controversial, elements into the mix (pre-fair carnival and beer garden, 5K run, talent and culinary competition).
Follow the Money
An explanation of financial assistance and a timeline of interactions between Harford County government and Harford County Farm Fair, Inc., researched for The Dagger by the Division of Agriculture and the Deputy Chief of Staff, helps illuminate the relationship and level of funding between the two entities over the years:
“While it’s not a direct payment to Harford County Farm Fair Inc., Harford County Government (specifically the Departments of Parks & Recreation and Public Works) provides between $25,000 and $30,000 in labor, materials, and miscellaneous expenses directly related to the staging of the Farm Fair each year.
In February 2010, County Executive David R. Craig with the approval of the County Council provided $30,000 to Farm Fair Inc. as a supplemental appropriation, which they had requested.
In November 2011, County Executive Craig met with representatives of Harford County Farm Fair Inc. to discuss the future of the fair. As a follow up to that meeting, the County Executive sent a letter to the board of Farm Fair Inc., stating that he would be willing to consider providing additional supplemental financial assistance to the Farm Fair, and that before any funds could be dispersed, the county would need to see an audit of Farm Fair Inc. finances. This request is no different than similar requests made of organizations that receive funding from the county.
In April of this year, representatives of Farm Fair Inc. met with members of the county executive’s staff to discuss plans for this year’s fair and to formally request supplemental funding. The County Executive’s staff reiterated that funding would only be considered upon the receipt of audited financials. At that time it was also strongly recommended that Farm Fair Inc. make an effort to create a business plan that could provide a framework for long term sustainability.”
As of May 16, none of the audited financials requested by Harford County government had been provided by Harford County Farm Fair, Inc.
According to Aimee O’Neill, co-chair of Harford County Farm Fair, Inc., the past few years have contained some “drama.”
In February 2010, the county provided an additional $30,000 in “supplemental appropriation” to the Farm Fair, after being approved by the Harford County Council. O’Neill said those funds were reimbursement for electrical work conducted at the Equestrian Center and paid for by the Farm Fair.
That same year, she said, the non-profit organization’s treasurer quit, records were not kept, and filings were not made with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation as required.
As a result, Farm Fair Inc. had been listed as “not in good standing” in the state’s database of non-profit groups. However, O’Neill said the group did file records in April as required and returned to “good standing.” The state database shows a filing was made on April 26, 2012, but does not reflect the change in standing. O’Neill said the necessary paperwork has been filed and Harford County Farm Fair, Inc. will be listed in good standing once a lag in the state Department of Assessments and Taxation catches up.
The November 2011 request to the county government for supplemental funds was due to a shortfall at last year’s Farm Fair, said O’Neill, who blamed the poor financial performance last year on hot weather curbing attendance.
“People don’t come out when it’s 100 degrees,” she added.
Despite the shortfall, O’Neill said all commercial vendors have been paid, as has insurance for this year’s event.
And the rationale for continually rebuffing the county’s requests for a financial audit?
O’Neill said the requested audit would cost between $4,000 and $7,000, and it didn’t make sense for the non-profit to spend those funds on an audit to access what she estimated was an additional $5,000 in county funds.
Most recently, a Farm Fair board member quit over concerns that the organization’s shaky finances threatened its ability to go forward with this year’s event, but O’Neill assured that the nonprofit organization was in good order and prepared to put the financial woes in the past – in part by going down a path the Farm Fair has avoided during its 25 years in existence.
Changing Face of the Fair
In a first for the Farm Fair and a reversal of long-standing practices, a carnival and other nontraditional events have been scheduled for the prior week to help raise funds for the larger event and stave off future financial turmoil.
O’Neill said a full midway of rides and games with a beer garden for adults, planned for July 17 to July 22, were meant to provide a funding cushion to protect against future shortfalls.
The Farm Fair has long avoided offering mechanical rides or carnival attractions found at other local events, preferring to keep the event’s focus on agriculture. The organization in 2001 wrote:
“Our fair is committed to providing an affordable, old-fashioned country fair experience. As a matter of policy, our board has decided not to have expensive mechanical rides or a midway at our annual fair. This eliminates the carnival atmosphere that makes so many contemporary fair experiences a very expensive outing. We prefer to provide affordable family-oriented fun that remains focused on our agricultural heritage. Upon entering the Harford County Farm Fair, children are given a pass to Kidway. At no additional cost, they can participate in a variety of sponsor-supported activities for children in lieu of costly games of “skill” or chance. It is still possible for a young family with two or three children to come to our fair with a twenty-dollar bill and to leave with change.”
Another pre-fair fundraising activity is the 2nd Annual Harford County Farm Fair 5K Run which will be held on Sunday, July 22.
The organizers have been careful to separate the carnival midway and beer garden from the traditional Farm Fair, but even the fair – as Harford County residents have known it for the last quarter-century – will include some new and modern activities this year.
New to the Farm Fair in 2012 are a talent competition, with categories for vocal, instrumental, dance, poetry reading, and acting, and the Seasonal Sensations Culinary Competition.
Longtime favorites, including the antique tractor pull, live music, and fireworks will all be returning to the Farm Fair this summer as will the 4-H livestock sale, an aspect of the fair upon which the County Executive has placed added emphasis.
In their response to The Dagger, county officials twice mentioned that Craig discussed the ongoing issues around the Farm Fair with the agriculture community. They said Craig told them the Harford County 4-H livestock sale, a cornerstone of the Farm Fair, would continue.
“County Executive Craig and his staff also met with representatives of Harford County 4-H to reassure them that he is committed to seeing that the annual livestock show and sale goes on and is successful,” they wrote in the e-mail, “and that county government will support that event with whatever means necessary,” according to the information provided by the County Executive’s office.
In their comments, the officials did not specify whether that meant the county’s “whatever means necessary” level of support would extend beyond the agricultural events to the Farm Fair generally. However, they said county planning for this year’s Farm Fair was proceeding as usual.
“The Harford County Departments of Public Works and Parks & Recreation have begun preparations for this year’s fair as normal, and we are excited to be a part of the 25th Annual Harford County Farm Fair,” they wrote. “County Executive Craig genuinely appreciates the hard work of the dedicated board members and volunteers of Harford County Farm Fair Inc. He remains 100% committed to seeing that the county’s annual showcase of agriculture, particularly the 4-H Show and Sale, is successful and sustainable long into the future.”
Schedule of Events
The press release announcing the Farm Fair’s carnival and other planned fundraising events follows:
The 25th Annual Harford County Farm Fair at the Harford County Equestrian Center located at 608 Tollgate Road in Bel Air, Maryland 21014, promises many new and traditional fun activities for the whole family! The Fair will be held beginning Thursday, July 26 through Sunday July 29. The hours of the Fair are from 10 am to 10 pm on Thursday through Saturday and 10 am to 6 pm on Sunday. Pre-Fair fundraising activities will be held beginning on Tuesday, July 17 through Sunday, July 22.
The Farm Fair is dedicated to promoting Agriculture, 4-H and the Future Farmers of America (FFA) in Harford County – providing an opportunity to showcase the history, active local economy and future of farming for folks throughout the region to enjoy.
To celebrate the 25th annual fair there are many new activities planned, as well as the return of the traditional events which bring Fairgoers back to the Fair from one generation to the next.
The 2012 Fair will be preceded by the Harford County Farm Fair Carnival and Beer Barn – a full Midway of rides and games with refreshments for all and a Beer Garden for the adults. The Carnival will be held on the Equestrian Center Fair Grounds and runs from Tuesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 21. The hours are from 5 pm to 10 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 5 pm to 11 pm on Friday and 12 noon to 11 pm on Saturday. Family discounts for rides will be available every day of the Carnival. The Beer Barn will be open throughout the hours of the Carnival on Friday and Saturday, only, in the Main Pavilion at the Equestrian Center Fairgrounds and will include Beer and Wine by the glass, refreshments, music, raffle & other activities. There is no cover charge for the Beer Barn. The Farm Fair Carnival is held as a fundraising activity to offset the costs of the traditional (no-Midway) Fair. Parking for the Carnival is on the Fairgrounds. There will be no satellite parking with buses during the Carnival.
Another pre-Fair fundraising activity is the 2nd Annual Harford County Farm Fair 5K Run which will be held on Sunday, July 22 at 8:00 am. Registration for the 5K run is on the Farm Fair website at www.farmfair.org. The Farm Fair 5K course is family-friendly and winds its way across the Heavenly Waters park surrounding the Farm Fair Equestrian Center.
During the Farm Fair from Thursday July 26 through Sunday, July 239 are new and familiar activities:
The Fair Board is pleased to announce that Fireworks!!! are returning to the Fair and will be held on Thursday evening around 9:15 pm, following the Antique Tractor Pull.
The East Coast National Truck and Tractor Pull will be held on Friday and Saturday, beginning at 7:00 pm. This is a nationally sanctioned event and provides lively entertainment for all.
Another new offering at the 25th Annual Farm Fair is the Farm Fair Talent Competition which will be held on Friday and Saturday, beginning at 7:30 pm, in the Main Pavilion. Contestants will compete in categories to include vocal, instrumental, dance, poetry reading, acting and other talent presentations (unicyclists? baton twirlers? comedians? magicians?). Guest judges will be announced. Prizes will be awarded in each category of competition and video of all winners will be shown on the Farm Fair website throughout the year following the Fair! All contestants must audition prior to the Fair. The Friday evening competition will determe the top contestants in each category and the Saturday evening competition will determine the prize winners. Check the Farm Fair website for audition dates and entry information.
The Second Annual Harford County Farm Fair Food & Wine Fiesta with Craft & Farmer’s Market has been moved to Sunday afternoon during the Farm Fair – July 29. The Fiesta & Market is to be held in the Main Pavilion beginning at 1:00 pm and will remain open through the close of the Fair at 6:00 pm. The Fiesta & Market is open to Harford County producers of retail consumables – a celebration of our local Field to Table economy. Patrons will find a delectable array of cheeses, ice cream, frozen meats, vegetables and fruits as well as Wine Tasting of local wine producers and the opportunity to purchase local wines by the bottle (or case!). Area restaurants are invited to participate to sell hot and cold food items focused on the use of local, seasonal foods. Artisans will display their hand-crafted decorative items for sale. NEW for the 25th annual Fair is the Seasonal Sensations Culinary Competition which will be held during the Fiesta. Prizes will be awarded for the best culinary treat in the categories of hot or cold appetizer, entree, dessert or beverage. Celebrity judges will be announced. Winners of the Culinary Competition and the annual Peach Pie Contest will be announced at 3:30 pm in the Main Pavilion. Look for additional information and registration on the Farm Fair website.
Featured each day will be the Flying Hounds Dog Show, sponsored by Nutramax, with presentations throughout the day. This high-energy show will delight fairgoers of all ages.
Fairgoers will enjoy the traditional, non-mechanized Kidway with Face Painting, Button Making, inflatable activities, straw maze and the ever popular Pig Racing. Candy ‘n’ Cupcake will return to the 25th annual Fair, as will the Liberty Wagon, Barn Yard, Farm Baby Costume Contest, Pie Eating and Watermelon Eating Contests and the Annual 4-H Livestock Auction on Saturday evening, beginning at 5:00 pm. Test your spelling at the annual Harford County Public Library Spelling Bee which is held on Sunday beginning at 1:00 pm. The 2012 Bee will be held on the stage of the showmobile!
4-H Annual shows and exhibits are open throughout the Fair, and all are invited to strut their stuff in the dozens of categories in the Open Classes from flowers to needlepoint to photography to vegetables and more!
Area businesses find the Farm Fair to be a welcome opportunity to advertise their services and retail sales with dozens of vendors of interesting and useful items on display and for sale throughout the 4-days of the Fair. Learn about Agriculture at the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation trailer and displays from the Harford County Extension Agency and Ag Economic Development office.
Don’t forget the classic Fair Food Court and t-shirts, too!
The Farm Fair Board is pleased to announce that, for the second year, 1 free ticket to the Fair will be distributed to every 5th grader in Harford County, including all public and private schools students.
Admission to the Fair is $ 8.00 for adults; $ 5.00 for children 5 to 12 years and under 5 years, free. Seniors are admitted for $ 5.00 on Thursday, only. Adults with military ID are admitted for $ 6.00 every day of the Fair. There is no additional charge for activities within the Fair and fairgoers may bring their own food and beverages. No alcoholic beverages or smoking are permitted on the fairgrounds. The wine tasting is restricted to the Main Pavilion, during the Fiesta on Sunday, only. No pets are allowed on the fairgrounds except for registered show animals. Free Parking will be available on Tollgate Road, Vale Road, Red Pump Elementary School and Patterson Mill High School, with Shuttle Bus Service from the satellite parking lots.
Volunteers are an essential part of the Farm Fair. We are seeking local talent to perform on the Showmobile Stage throughout the Fair, as well as demonstrations of artisan and AG related activities. Go to the website to sign-up to volunteer and to obtain registration forms for performing on the showmobile or providing demonstrations in the show rings at the Fair.
There is something for everyone at the Farm Fair to enjoy and learn! See you at the Fair!
Additional reporting by Cindy Mumby