It’s got to be the food.
It’s got to be the exhibits and the rides and the attractions.
It’s got to be the festive atmosphere.
It’s got to be the people.
It’s got to be the tradition.
It’s hard to pick just one. It’s the combination of all those elements that makes the Lebanon Area Fair the premiere event in Lebanon County.
The Lebanon Area Fair is back, and it’s bigger and better than ever. The 65th annual celebration of all things that make Lebanon County what it is will be staged from Saturday, July 24, through Saturday, July 31, at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center and Fairgrounds, 90 Rocherty Road.
Nothing has the power to bring Lebanon County residents together like the fair.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a local event with a bigger attendance,” said Dan Siegel, the chairman of the Lebanon Area Fair board. “It’s been voted the best event in Lebanon County. What other event brings so many people together? It doesn’t exist.”
“In terms of interest, at what other event do you have a choice of going to a tractor pull, looking at flowers or eating?” Siegel continued. “There is such a broad range of things to do. One night doesn’t touch everything.”
Following months of preparation and countless hours of work by dedicated volunteers, the 2021 Lebanon Area Fair is set and ready to go. In much the same way, it appears fair goers are ready to come back.
The fair will run daily beginning at 8 a.m., with gates closing at 10 p.m. Admission to the fair is $5 after 3 p.m., while some of the special events on the fairgrounds’ track require a separate charge.
“It’s a place to have fun,” said Siegel. “It is very much a community event. You’d be amazed at the people you see here who you wouldn’t even think would come to a fair. It’s almost like a community reunion. But I think we have a responsibility to showcase agriculture. It’s fallen in priority in modern life. There’s a certain level of outreach as well.
“The biggest thing is that there’s something for everyone,” added Siegel. “If 2020 and COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s how many people in the community the fair touches.”
The Lebanon Area Fair combines town and country, young and old, agriculture and consumers. But its focus is on the things we have in common.
There are games of skill, rides of thrill, indoor and outdoor agricultural exhibits, shows, music, entertainment, a circus, contests, dancing, auctions and dinners. Oh, and food.
Traditionally, the highlights of the fair are the crowning of the fair queen, the Lebanon County Firemen’s competition, the judging of livestock events, events on the track and the closing ceremony’s fireworks.
This year, Sunday is First Responders’ Day, Monday is Children’s Day, Tuesday is Senior Citizens’ Day and Thursday is Military Appreciation Night.
“It’s sort of this whole package,” said Siegel. “Personally, I do look at the vegetable exhibit and the beef exhibit, because those are the things I’m interested in. But my favorite event is the super-stock tractor pull on Wednesdays. The fireworks at the end of the demolition derby signifies another successful year. It’s more of an emotional thing like, ‘we’ve completed our task.’
“I think the average fair-goer certainly comes for the food,” he added. “We have commercial vendors and our own food booths. For me, it’s the French fries and the milkshakes. One year, I honestly drank 30 milkshakes. I counted them.”
Before last year’s COVID-19 scaled-down model, the Lebanon Area Fair regularly attracted between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors throughout the week. That’s a huge number for an agricultural fair conducted in a county the size of Lebanon.
“We would fully anticipate that attendance returning to normal,” said Siegel. “It’s people from every walk of life imaginable. It’s not an exclusive event. It’s an inclusive event. Nothing is barring anyone from coming. We have done a fair amount of advertising outreach to neighboring counties, but in terms of attendees, it’s a primarily Lebanon event.
“It’s also affordable,” he continued. “A fair amount of it is tradition. It’s summertime. It’s the end of July. It’s fair time.”
Of its 65 years of existence, the last 52 Lebanon Area Fairs have been staged at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center and Fairgrounds. But the origins of the fair predate the mid-1950s, when a group of like-minded local farmers came up with the idea of promoting local agriculture.
“It was almost like a nomadic fair at one time,” said Siegel. “As a chairperson, you feel a responsibility to carry on what other people started. It was started at this location by a bunch of farmers who found it important to promote local agriculture. Then it just grew from there. The buildings have expanded and been improved. It’s been a natural progression.
“Over the years, the attendance levels and the facilities have changed greatly,” he added. “Literally, this fair went from being tents set up on grass fields to the buildings we have today. It’s an event where people bring what they have in their homes, exhibit, compete –and eat. You can go back to the 1800s, and people were doing that.”
At this time every year, in small towns like Lebanon across the country, area agricultural fairs are being conducted. In that way, country fairs are truly a slice of Americana – a passage back to a slower time.
While the Lebanon Area Fair is unique to Lebanon, it also has a charm that is tied to similar experiences throughout the country.
“That part of it is amazing,” said Siegel. “You can talk about our fair. But the same thing is happening in towns across the United States. It’s a timeless event.
“I have tons of memories,” he added. “I started coming here in the early ’90s, when my babysitter brought me here. For some reason, I remember the pig races. You remember the people who were involved. Some are still involved. Some are retired. Some have passed away.”
At its roots, Lebanon is a rural county, and agriculture has helped shape what our community has become. While the impact of local agriculture has waned, it is still very much an important ingredient of our future.
“There’s still a tremendous agricultural presence here, when you think of land usage and agri-business,” said Siegel. “I think one of the things that is forgotten is the importance of agriculture to our local economy. I think it’s important as a fair that we continue the agriculture theme, so people can stay in touch with it.
“I see us (the fair) continuing to grow,” he concluded. “When you see more people moving into this area, you’re going to see increased attendance. You’re always going to see new faces taking the place of old faces. We just need to keep that part of it going.”
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