Ripples from State Fair’s bankruptcy are still felt
By LINDA BELL WINE
HARRISONBURG, Va. — Since 1854, the State Fair of Virginia has been a can’t-miss family event in the commonwealth.
The fair was suspended during the Civil War and World War II.
Over the years it was moved around various parks in Richmond, reorganized, its name was changed, and then in 2009 it was relocated to the beautiful farm in Caroline County where 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat was born.
The State Fair of Virginia has been on a wild ride. In March, the fair halted operations after a dispute with lenders and went into bankruptcy. Then, in May, Universal Fairs owner Mark Lovell of Tennessee bought the intellectual property and the event site for a bargain price, and now he has an offer from a potential buyer.
The carnival rides, concerts and fried fair food will likely remain in Caroline County, but the 4-H and FFA livestock shows and competitions will move to Rockingham County Fairgrounds in Harrisonburg.
Billed as the Virginia Junior Livestock Expo 2012, the event will run Oct. 11-14 and offer market and breeding shows for beef cattle, swine, sheep and goats. Dairy shows are scheduled to move to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Virginia Cooperative Extension will lead the charge in organizing the junior livestock show activities for this year and work closely with youth, parents, leaders, volunteers and supporters.
Last year at the State Fair of Virginia 445 young people exhibited more than 940 animals.
This year, Rockingham, the state’s leading agricultural county, will be ready for them, fair officials have said.
The fairgrounds have five barns, two show rings, parking for more than 6,000 vehicles, a campground for exhibitors and numerous concession stands run by local civic groups for true “Valley cookin’.”
“It’s a very big undertaking, and it’s a very big deal here because it involves the youth,” said Michael Gochenour, Rockingham County Fair Association president. “Because agriculture plays such a big part in this community, and because the youth are the future of agriculture, it’s a way to showcase their talent. Healthy competition brings out the best in people. Without the animals, the fair is just a carnival. It’s important to us to see the fair continue.’’
Gochenour, who grew up on a beef farm, showed in 4-H and was a 4-H All-Star.
He is now a financial adviser with Wells-Fargo in Harrisonburg and said the bankruptcy and sale of the fair should be a teachable moment for the youth it has affected.
“There are many lessons to be learned (from the sale of the state fair.) They involve the market, management, real estate and greed,” Gochenour said. “They will be lessons for our young people to look into.”
The importance of a state fair to the education and culture of the agricultural community cannot be underestimated, many have said since the bankruptcy and sale. It often is the annual family vacation for many who bring animals. For many farmers, it’s an excuse to get off the farm and meet and greet old friends. It’s a place to swap new ideas and old tricks. There are scholarship opportunities for young people. Plus it’s the pinnacle of 4-Hers’ and FFA members’ year of work.
The late John Rucker of Hill Crest Farm in Delaplane, Va., served as superintendent of the beef barns at the State Fair in Richmond for more than 40 years.
His daughter Connie Hall, who still lives at home on the family Angus farm, said, “He took his girls and that was his vacation. He finally left under duress.
“There were administrative changes; times were changing and they wanted to cut out many exhibits. The red brick barn was really full then. He refused an award to acknowledge his service and then resigned.”
She continued, “Our grandson James showed in the Angus show at the state fair last year. It was his first show there. Of course, (my husband) Jerry and I went. I walked around and thought, ‘What an enjoyable place.’ You know there had to be a lot of mismanagement.”
Show details and entry forms will be posted on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website as they become available.