Junior Fair Begins at Quiet Canfield Fairgrounds

CANFIELD, Ohio – There’s only 363 days until the Canfield Fair. The Mahoning Valley’s end-of-summer ritual was canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which means the next fair won’t begin until Sept. 1, 2021.

However, there is some life at the sprawling fairgrounds as the Junior Fair opened its six-day run Wednesday.

The grounds probably look a lot like they did in 1846, when the first fair took place. There is livestock on show, along with other projects that celebrate agriculture and rural life.

What’s missing are the rides, games, entertainment,  demonstrations and the tens of thousands of folks in the midways.

Only a few hundred kids and their family members were on the expansive fairgrounds Wednesday. While the opening ceremony was marred by a storm and followed by gray skies, the enthusiasm of the Junior Fair participants was evident.

Six Mahoning County groups – 4-H, Future Farmers of America, the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Campfire Girls and Grange – participate in the Junior Fair.  Their members display pigs, cows, sheep, poultry and cows they raised, and also sewing, gardening and other projects.

The annual livestock and dairy sales will take place Thursday and Friday in the fairgrounds’ new Junior Fair building, which was open for the first time Wednesday.

Natalia Kresic of Lordstown is the reigning Junior Fair queen, a title she’ll relinquish Thursday when the 2020 queen is crowned. 

While this year’s event is a far cry from a normal year in terms of crowds, in every other way it was the same.

“It’s definitely not normal but it’s the new normal and … it works,” she said. “This is actually kind of normal for a Junior 

Fair kid. What’s different is we are spread out all over the fairgrounds and usually we are all together.”

Social distancing regulations forced the Junior Fair to enlarge its territory.

Ward Campbell, president of the fair board of directors, noted that this year’s fair is like a return to its roots.

“It was all about agriculture when it started and it’s all about agriculture this year,” he said.

Clayton Graham of North Jackson guides a pig, raised by his brother, Carter, into a stall in the new Junior Fair building.

Campbell is a sixth-generation farmer who grows grain, corn and beans on 1,100 acres on Palmyra Road. He’s the only member of the fair board who makes his living as a farmer.

“I keep thinking about how far we’ve come in agriculture in 174 years, from horse-drawn plows to the computer-operated equipment we have today,” he said. “Back then, everyone was farming in one aspect or another but today it’s less than 2% of the population, so we’ve got to keep these kids educated in it.”

While there were few people on the fairgrounds, signs of the pandemic are everywhere. On nearly every corner are small billboards reminding people to wear a mask, stay six feet apart and wash their hands.

Cory Powell of the Mahoning County Board of Health was patrolling the grounds to make sure standards are being met, and gently reminding those who forget the rules.

“I’m a fan of the Canfield Fair, just like everyone else,” he said. “If everyone does their part, wears masks, maintains social distancing, avoids large crowds, we’ll have a normal fair in the future. The more we buy in to these protocols, the closer we get to normal as we know it.”

The only people on the fairgrounds who are not in the Junior Fair are the workers in the 12 food stands.

Among them is Faith McGee, co-owner of Molnar’s Concessions. There are only three Molnar’s stands on the grounds this year, a far cry from the 13 in a normal year.

The company’s famous cinnamon rolls are being sold at one stand. It may be a welcome sight for those who crave the sweet treats, but McGee is a little salty this year. It’s been a rough summer for her company because every fair she normally works at has been canceled. 

“I’ve still got bills to pay,” she said.

Pandemic regulations have forced changes to every facet of the fair; even the food stands are socially distanced.

Molnar’s main stand is not in its usual location, but is instead sitting alone on a fairgrounds street corner.

While McGee was glad to be back on her home turf, she couldn’t quite shake the fact that everything was different.

“It feels great to be out here but odd at the same time,” she said.

Pictured: Ward Campbell, president of the Canfield Fair’s board of directors, says the limited offerings this year return the annual event to its roots as an agricultural showcase.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.