Ag Expo's popularity seems to be dwindling

August 01, 2011
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

By the time you read this column, the sun will have set on the 2011 Washington County Ag Expo & Fair.

As I have mentioned previously, as a boy I enjoyed attending and competing at the Great Hagerstown Fair. But as we know, it had a sad ending in the early 1980s.

It seems to me that many in the community have lost touch with the fair and I am not sure why.

It seems like the community in general is not nearly as supportive as it is in other places or as it was in the past. Now, I know nostalgia can play tricks on your memory, but recent experience does not.

I am privileged to be invited to judge at different fairs around the region and across the state, and I always come away from most of them wondering why our fair doesn’t enjoy such support.

It cannot be the facilities because it seems every year a visitor or judge comments about how nice are our grounds. It cannot be the entertainment because we have much the same lineup of tractor and truck pulls, demolition derby and local singing talent as others. It cannot be our location, as I have been to some fairs that would require a map and compass for an outsider to find. But find it they do.

There are lots of reasons to attend the fair, from livestock shows to tractor pulls to bull riding, but another reason is to connect or reconnect with your agricultural heritage and your food system. This nation and this county were built on and by agriculture. Industry cannot follow where agriculture has not first been.

The other area of community support I see lacking at almost every fair, our own included, is from allied industry and I don’t mean tractor dealers. When I was in Scotland and attended the huge Royal Highland Show, they had displays from forestry companies, food stalls from vendors such as deer to pork, and from grocery stores.

Yes, I said a grocery store. Could you imagine walking through a fairgrounds and seeing a huge under-roof educational display sponsored and manned by a local grocery store chain? In Scotland, I saw a huge display by Sainsbury’s, and to be fair, they are more like a Walmart Superstore than a grocery store. Nevertheless, they were there and unashamedly promoting agriculture.

Another shocking site for me was another educational display whose banner had golden arches on each side and in the center a statement that read “McDonald’s Supporting UK Agriculture.”

Banking was also a big sponsor. I lost count of the number of Royal Bank of Scotland banners I saw. At the Foire Agricole Ettelbrück. translated Agricultural Fair Ettelbruck, in Luxembourg, Dexia, one of their large banks was a principal sponsor of the Summer Classic Holstein Sale. I am not sure you could find more than a dozen bankers that would even know that a Holstein is a dairy cow. No disrespect intended, it just makes my point of the great gulf of knowledge and support of agriculture.

So while it is too late to show your support this year, make plans to come out next year, and in the meantime, thank a farmer when you see one. Better yet, buy some local food.

Jeff Semler is an extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at



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