The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to fairs and farm shows being canceled across the region, striking a cruel blow for young people who raise animals to show at those events. “By mid-August, organizers had canceled the Manheim Farm Show and Ephrata, Elizabethtown, New Holland Farmers, Denver, Solanco and York fairs,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Sean Sauro reported Sept. 8. Additionally, January’s Pennsylvania Farm Show will be held virtually instead of in-person, and it’s not yet clear what that will mean for its livestock shows.
The pandemic has been the direct cause of so much heartbreak and trauma.
Some outcomes have been far more devastating than others, of course. Perspective is important. But today we want to acknowledge how the virus has affected Lancaster County youths and young adults whose lives revolve around agriculture and the raising of farm animals.
It’s such an important part of this county’s heritage. Farming remains part of the bedrock of Lancaster County and vast parts of the commonwealth. And we have rich traditions, especially at this time of year, to celebrate the year-round efforts of those who are learning the time-honored skills of raising livestock.
The summer and autumn fairs we so love — with their scrumptious food, rides and carnival games — mostly have their roots in something that has nothing to do with funnel cakes or Ferris wheels. At their long-ago inception, these fairs were about helping farmers and celebrating those involved in agriculture.
For those folks, 2020 has been a most bitter pill.
The article by LNP | LancasterOnline’s Sauro last week detailed some of the heartache caused by the necessary cancellation of farm shows and fairs due to a pandemic that has killed more than 190,000 Americans.
There is Bailey Oberholtzer, a 15-year-old from Ephrata Township. Most of her days begin with a 5:30 a.m. bike ride to the farmland where she raises several sheep.
“There, the teen said she spends about two hours a day, cleaning and filling water buckets, feeding her animals and regularly grooming them,” Sauro wrote. “That’s in addition to running them to build up muscle and sitting with the animals to gain their trust — both advantages at competitions.”
We should marvel at what Bailey accomplishes before 8 a.m. most days, an hour when many of us are still bleary-eyed. But a strong work ethic and early morning labor are common for those who raise livestock. Bailey has been doing it for years. She’s competed in livestock shows in Lancaster and Lebanon counties and also at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
This year, however, those shows didn’t take place.
While there’s great disappointment in not being able to showcase all that hard work, there’s also an economic factor to this, Sauro noted. Livestock shows can lead to prizes for the best competitors. And the prizes aren’t just about pride and glory; they can lead to high prices at animal auctions.
“For me, it was really disappointing, because I’m thinking in my head, ‘I have all these sheep that are really good,’ ” Bailey said. “This year, I’m probably not going to make profit.”
Sauro also interviewed 19-year-old Emma Musser, who was blunt about how COVID-19 ruined the spring of her senior year at Elizabetown Area High School. But she was hoping — as we all were — that the coronavirus would be sufficiently contained during those early months so that we could have some return to normalcy in the summer and fall.
But that, for myriad and often maddening reasons, has not been the case. COVID-19 has not gone away, and the organizers of our local fairs, one by one, came to the conclusion that it would not be possible to safely hold their events in 2020.
The Elizabethtown Fair was canceled for the first time in 46 years.
“I remember I was sitting in my dad’s truck, and I saw it on Facebook,” Emma said. “I just wanted to cry.”
We share her pain, as do so many local youths who were looking forward to showcasing their cows, goats, sheep, pigs and other livestock.
There could be a troubling long-term effect, too. Jevin Kready, a farmer at Meadow Springs Farm in Rapho Township, told Sauro that youth competitors often rely on profits from livestock shows to pay for the next year’s costs. Animals, feed and equipment all cost money.
Emma says, for instance, that animals can range in price from a couple hundred dollars to upward of $1,000.
After being involved in youth livestock competitions since age 8, Emma will try to move past this disappointment and into the next chapter of her young life. She’ll take a gap year to work as a state chaplain for the Pennsylvania Future Farmers of America. Then it will be on to Penn State University to study agricultural science.
We wish her well.
And we have high hopes and best wishes for all those young people across Lancaster County who saw their dreams of livestock shows shattered by a cruel and unforgiving virus that has turned so many parts of our world upside-down.
We hope Pennsylvania Farm Show officials can come up with a safe and creative way to virtually showcase competitors who are still holding out hope for the January show.
We hope all of our beloved fairs and livestock shows can return safely in 2021.
And we hope that when they do, we all take a few minutes to give an extra nod of appreciation to the hard-working kids who get up before dawn each day to continue our state’s rich agricultural tradition.