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Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary & Fairs Commit to Growing the Future

Crowds Flocked to the 2022 Edition of the York State Fair
The fair was in the second year of its new summer format with the midway provided by Strates Shows.

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The 110th convention of the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs (PSACF) focused on the post-pandemic world with its theme Growing the Future, reflecting an optimistic membership, a high-profile visit by Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding, and an uptick in exhibitors.

How was the 2022 season for the Keystone State? According to Harry Reffner, Executive Secretary/Treasurer, PSACF and Board Secretary, Bedford County Fair, the season was strong although some under-performing fairs were telling reminders the global crisis continues to have unforeseen repercussions. “2022 was a mixed bag [for Fairs]over the state, some had larger attendance some saw a slight decrease in numbers,” he said. A performance rate he said resulted in attendees having a “ Very good attitude. Overall fairs reported a good year.”

Recovery Year

He added that it “Felt very good,” for the association to get together for a second year post-lockdown, noting that even though during January, the month of the convention, the CDC reported an average of 560 COVID deaths per day. Nonetheless, “COVID fears are lessening. 2023 should continue to be a recovery year from COVID. We are naturally more optimistic as we get further away for 2020.”
However, he noted that lingering apprehension and other factors continue to impede reviving attendance for the annual gathering of this 108-year organization. “Attendance was the same as 2022, but again not pre COVID numbers.”

The association looked to “Growing the Future”, with a full range of seminars and workshops.  The convention – which has been a supporter of the IAFE's Young Professionals Initiative(YPI) – held its second annual Youth Day, with workshops for younger professionals, both intermediate and entry-level. This year, additional Youth Day seminars were conducted by FFA officers, according to Reffner.

Many of the most popular workshops reflected the “Grow the Future” ethos, such as: How To Attract Millennials; Leadership – Finding The Leader In You; Creating Superfans; and Livestock Judging & Trends, Less glitzy topics, but also well-attended covered: “Animal health concerns with chicken, swine, and rabbits.”

The 2022 Bloomsburg Fair was well attended

Unified Fairs

The PASCF convention theme – blending both the future and agriculture – is often adopted as both marketing tagline, promotional copy and inspirational guidepost to association's 108 fair-members. The Crawford County Fair board issued a statement following the convention that the board “will continue to work toward this theme as we provide learning experiences for the hundreds of 4-H, FFA and other youth groups and exhibitors that look forward to and plan for the Crawford County Fair each year. During fair week 2023 we will slow down and take the time to embrace the countless opportunities that can be discovered around each corner along the midway, in the show arenas, barn areas and exhibit halls. These youngsters are our future and the time is now to encourage each of them to reach their fullest potential in things they are passionate about.”

The enthusiasm for the upcoming season not only was shared by the fair members, but noticed by vendors, midway providers, entertainers and other suppliers. Reffner said there were “Approximately 20 new exhibitors,” with a noticeable growth in one category, “Several new wrestling exhibitors,” adding “The Entertainment Showcase always held Wednesday evening [featured] 16 showcases, well received by the over 600 attendees.”

The highlight of the annual dinner was Secretary Redding, who received a hand-crafted quilt and award. Long a “champion of fairs,” according to Reffner, the Secretary posted on his Facebook page about his appearance: “I was honored… 2022 saw record attendance and a renewed sense of community as we've found our ‘new normal'. The engagement can be seen on full display, as youth, seniors, and everyone in between can participate by preparing and entering an exhibit or enjoying the food, sights, and shows. Through our fairs, it's incredible to see our communities come together for fun, wholesome, and memorable moments.
“In the past year, all 108 fairs occurred across our state, generating an estimated $126 million for the PA economy, while also generating $50 million in revenue annually, drawing locals and tourists alike who spend money on overnight stays, shopping, dining, and sightseeing.

“I am always amazed by the abilities of our fair planners, volunteers, and vendors who think on their feet and find creative solutions. It's testament to the hard work they do year in and year out. To be honored with a customized quilt and award by PSACF, highlighting the fairs I've been to, is something I will cherish, and I am truly appreciative of this precious gift. To Reta Ebersole and Marcia Reffner, I truly thank you for the wonderful handmade work of art.

“The evening was capped off with the singing of “I've been to every fair” and I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to do so. A note of thanks to all who make each PA fair possible and may 2023 be another wonderful year for our fairs.”

Person of the Year

Refner was also honored by being named the 2022 Fair Person of the Year. The Morrisons Cove Herald writes: “In the fair industry since the early '90s, Reffner has nearly "done it all" at the Bedford County Fair, held yearly in late July. He has been an entry clerk, been an exhibitor, entry superintendent, concession manager, board member, and then served as board secretary from 2003-2022.

“In 2006 his leadership abilities made him a perfect candidate for the PA State Association of County Fairs board of directors. During the next six years he served on many committees including fair person, communications, sponsorship, budget legislation and resolutions. In 2012 he was elected the PSACF secretary/treasurer, a position he continues to hold. With 108 fairs, someone always seems to have a question and Reffner always seems to have the answer. He truly has a passion for fairs and was well deserving of this honor.”

In other convention news: Martha Ebersole from Perry County Fair, is new PSACF President and Craig Lash from Westmoreland Fair is Vice-President.

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