New partnership will keep State Fair going

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

The State Fair of Virginia will be held this year, thanks to Commonwealth Fairs and Events, a newly formed partnership between the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and Universal Fairs of Cordova, Tenn.

The fair’s future was in jeopardy when its former operator, SFVA Inc., declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in March. “We were sad when we saw that it was going under,” says Greg Hicks, the Farm Bureau’s vice president of communications. “Virginia deserves to have a state fair.”

The Farm Bureau wanted to preserve the fair but couldn’t figure out how to accomplish that feat. “We didn’t feel like we had the financial wherewithal to bid on it,” Hicks says.

The Farm Bureau contacted Universal Fairs after the Tennessee company purchased the fairgrounds and other assets with an auction bid of $5.35 million. The two organizations formed a partnership in July. “We found some common ground,” Hicks says. “We can open doors for Universal Fairs that they may not have gotten through before. They run successful fairs in Tennessee, Georgia and Washington state, and they know how to do it. It’s a perfect partnership.”

Both parties have “skin in the game,” Hicks says, but he declines to disclose the Farm Bureau’s total investment in the partnership. “It was less than if we had purchased the fair at auction,” he says.

Commonwealth Fairs and Events will do all the planning and organization of the fair as well as other events on the 331 acres of The Meadow Event Park in Doswell.

The Farm Bureau will be involved in developing the agricultural component of the fair, which will contain livestock exhibitions. “We hope to have a calf born there every day,” Hicks says.

New events include a 5-kilometer run sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom and a Real Virginia Virtual Farm Tour. The latter includes a live online question-and-answer session with farming experts as well as videos of six Virginia farms, including interviews of farm families.

This year’s State Fair will be held Sept. 28 through Oct. 7. “We want to make it a premier state fair,” Hicks says. “We want to improve on it each year.”

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