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2-year-old twins Aidan & Collin Chisca, of Macungie look at the lamb at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg on Sunday, January 5, 2020.

THE ISSUE

“The Pennsylvania Farm Show, usually a crowded affair celebrating food, farming and family, will be a virtual event this January to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Jeff Hawkes wrote Wednesday, following the official announcement by state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “There will be no in-person events or competitions at January’s show, which typically attracts as many as 400,000 visitors to the Harrisburg complex during the weeklong run and generates about $90 million in economic activity,” Hawkes noted.

2020 has been filled with necessary but demoralizing cancellations and online reimaginings of so many things we enjoy.

And now, with the news that the next Pennsylvania Farm Show will be “celebrated virtually,” it is sad to learn that the effects of the pandemic on the economy — and on our social lives — will extend into early 2021.

We are social beings. We love fairs, carnivals and festivals. We love sports, concerts, movies and theater. We love being together and celebrating our shared interests.

And that makes this all so very hard. Especially for those whose economic livelihoods depend on huge annual events such as the Farm Show. And for the many who work year-round to prepare for them.

The Elizabethtown Fair was supposed to kick off the start of Lancaster County’s fair season this week, LNP | LancasterOnline’s Erin Negley noted. But health experts’ continuing concerns about the ability of the novel coronavirus to spread in crowds — along with the state’s prohibition on outdoor events of more than 250 persons — has led to the cancellation of the county’s beloved late-summer festivals.

“Not having a fair is a first for many communities, some of which organized fairs more than a century ago,” Negley wrote. “This year, we won’t have the homecoming.”

And it’s not just here. Across the river, the York State Fair, which usually draws more than a half-million people, was canceled for the first time since 1918 — also a pandemic year. Cancellation was the right thing to do for the health and safety of the community a century ago, and it’s the right thing in 2020.

Most fairs have their roots in celebrating agriculture and the summer-end harvest. We’ll miss livestock competitions, the food, the rides, the music, the laughter and smiles on the faces of children and neighbors.

All is not lost for this summer, though. Negley notes that some smaller community events are being held. The plans for them are necessarily modest, with a mixture of food trucks, street performers, livestock auctions and games. If you attend, please follow public health guidelines, wear a mask and practice social distancing.

While losing the local fairs hurt, the cancellation of the in-person Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg is a disappointment that reaches into all corners of the commonwealth. It is a yearly showcase of the state’s rich farming history.

There is so much we love about the Farm Show — not just the milkshakes (though they are superb). There are the cooking and baking events; the tractor square dancing; the butter sculpture; the sheep-to-shawl competition. And having an opportunity to see, in person, the results of months of labor by children and young adults who raise farm animals and participate in Pennsylvania 4-H programs.

“There’s no better antidote to the post-holiday winter blahs than the Pennsylvania Farm Show,” we wrote in an editorial last year. “We’re also proud that Lancaster County is a Farm Show county. With all that we have to offer in so many areas — our economic diversification is a strength — our continuing agricultural tradition is still a rock we depend on.”

The 2021 Farm Show will focus on using modern technology to bring our agrarian heritage to the masses. The online presentation might even be a way to attract new followers, who could then visit Harrisburg when the in-person Farm Show returns.

This isn’t the first time the Farm Show has needed to adjust for seismic world events. “(It) was dramatically changed for several years during World War II, when much of what is now a 24-acre complex was devoted to war efforts,” The Associated Press noted. “From 1943 to 1946 there were no exhibits, livestock or competitions.”

For 2021, change is again necessary. It’s for a different kind of “war” effort — the continuance of our public health response to COVID-19 until such time as a safe and effective vaccine is available and distributed to the U.S. population.

That response involves protecting our most vital resources. We appreciate how Redding, the state agriculture secretary, framed it in his announcement last week:

“There are times in the life of a farmer when the risks are too great or uncertain, requiring farmers to make the tough decision to leave a field fallow,” Redding wrote. “To protect our assets — both our people and our resources — from incalculable losses, we have made the tough decision to take a year to lie in fallow.”

Redding continued: “We’ll look at our strengths and where we need to invest together in order to grow and cultivate for tomorrow. We’ll consider what has become crystal clear during the pandemic — that agriculture is essential for life; our people are resilient and innovative.”

That’s the right attitude in this surreal and challenging period. Pennsylvania farmers bounce back even after the worst of times. They are “resilient and innovative” because they must be.

Local fairs and the Pennsylvania Farm Show will return. We will support them when they do. And appreciate them in a way we never have before. 

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