On the back burner: Many longtime vendors forego fair due to virus

From left, Dominic Cintorino, Laura Hill and Pete Olson cook at the Delaware Farm Bureau food stand at the 2017 Delaware State Fair. After the Delaware Farm Bureau county-level state fair committee voted unanimously to recommend stepping away from serving food for a year, the state leadership approved the motion. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

HARRINGTON — They weighed the health risks and likelihood of stunted attendance due to COVID-19 limitations.

Opting out of the 101st Delaware State Fair was a tough call, but inevitable, some traditional food stand operators determined.

So for this summer at least, the Delaware State Grange won’t serve up its signature chicken platters, complete with a wingless breast or leg quarter, potato salad, two to three tomato slices, a couple pickles and an ear of corn.

There won’t be any hand-dipped milkshakes available at the Delaware Farm Bureau’s spot either, along with no produce, ice cream and meat products provided by local farms and creameries.

For Grange President Michael Lynch, the mid-June decision to sit this one out has begun to seem more real in the past few days. The organization has been a part of the fair for six decades, but not this year.

“It feels really, really strange for it to be a week before the state fair and not have anything to do but answer the phones,” he said Tuesday.

The fair opens this Thursday and runs through Aug. 1. For updated information, visit DelawareStateFair.com.

Since April, Grange planners had evaluated the impact of the coronavirus on the First State, holding out hope for the annual return.

Limiting the range of available food items was discussed, but as Mr. Lynch reasoned, “We’ve built up a brand for over 60 years and you would have many angry people if they showed up expecting a menu and didn’t get it.

“You know how customers are sometimes.”

With a State of Emergency Phase 2 restriction limiting crowds on fair grounds to 60% capacity, Mr. Lynch said there were trepidations on whether there would be enough business to make the efforts profitable anyway.

An abundance of caution eventually made the choice to skip inevitable.

“The biggest problem was finding a workforce,” Mr. Lynch said. “We have a lot of veterans in an age group that would be at extra risk by being there. Most said they would rather not do it this year, which makes a lot of sense.”

This year’s fairgoers will miss out on the Delaware State Grange’s signature chicken platters, complete with a wingless breast or leg quarter, potato salad, two to three tomato slices, a couple pickles and an ear of corn. Delaware State News file photo

After the Delaware Farm Bureau (DFB) county-level state fair committee voted unanimously to recommend stepping away for a year, the state leadership approved the motion.

Through spokeswoman Jennifer Antonik, the DFB said its decision was made “ reluctantly” and “This is not a decision we made lightly knowing our own traditional roots at the Delaware State Fair.

“COVID-19 has changed everything in our lives. The state fair as we know it has changed this year, as well.

“We rely on our volunteers of all ages to run a successful booth every year and this year, like no other, everyone’s health, and the health of their families, should take precedent. …”

Revenue, scholarship losses

A veteran of 20 years of heavy involvement at the DFB food stand, committee co-chair Laura Hill lamented the loss of $5,500 in scholarship funds distributed statewide, along with the personal satisfaction of coming together with like-minded members every year.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Ms. Hill said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and we’ll miss it. I know a lot of kids look forward to coming back every year. Some of them do smaller jobs to begin with and look forward to taking on more responsibilities, so it definitely leaves a void for them and everyone else.”

Some DFB volunteers will staff an informational booth, providing a map of member food stand locations statewide, along with providing giveaways and information about agriculture in the First State.

As of Friday morning, no list of potential DFB members participating at the fair was available.

Greenwood Mennonite Church’s food stand spot will be vacant as well, officials said.

Said Delaware State Fair Assistant General Manager Danny Aguilar on Thursday, “We are working on our numbers still, so no firm numbers on vendors not coming as replacements are coming in.”

Food vendors will be positioned on the Wade Shows side of the fair, Mr. Aguilar said.

The Grange’s decision affected local food suppliers including, among others:

• Sudlersville Meat Locker in Sudlersville, Md., chicken and ham.

• Woodside Creamery in Hockessin, ice cream.

• Papens Farm in Dover, corn.

• Godfrey’s Farm in Sudlersville, Md., tomatoes.

• Walters Produce Market in Felton, potatoes.

“They were of course disappointed because it was a loss of business, but they understood,” Mr. Lynch said.

Though disappointed, Sudlersville Meat Market owner Dwayne Nickerson said The Grange’s choice to avoid the fair as “wise.” He said his business has otherwise been flooded with customers and took solace in still being able to process animals for 4-H and Future Farmers of America participants this year.

“It means a lot to them to do that so it means a lot to us,” he said.

DFB’s produce came from Fifers Orchards in Camden-Wyoming, meat products from Kirby & Holloway Provision in Harrington and Hershey Ice Cream from Denton, Md. as well.

In a typical year, The Grange’s state fair stay would result in $35,000 to $50,000 in profit, and gross sales would be approximately $80,000, Mr. Lynch said.

Now, the local Grange branch can’t fund $5,000 in scholarships to the University of Delaware, Delaware State University and a college-bound member, along with donating a combined $2,000 to Future Farmers of America and 4-H organizations.

“We’ll make it through but it’s very unfortunate for the charities’ sake that this had to happen,” Mr. Lynch said. “We’ve put community projects on hold indefinitely as well.

“The Grange never took money and invested it or held onto it. It kind of flowed out into the community, so there’s still a lot of uncertainty with what comes next.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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