With its origins dating back to the 1800s, the Annual Harford County Farm Fair just wrapped its 32nd consecutive summer at the Equestrian Center, located off of North Tollgate Road in Bel Air, Md.
After last year’s washout—rain lasted most of the week and caused the cancelations of many events—nearly 40,000 visitors, participants, 4-H club members, and volunteers clicked the turnstiles to join in on the festivities they waited nearly two years for.
While the fair certainly caters to its visitors with tractor pulls, numerous food kiosks, and carnival rides and games, it is also rich in agricultural history and centers on local farmers and the 4-H Club.
A Chance For People To Get Out And Meet Great People In Harford County
“It’s a great place to meet really good people,” Hamilton Sullivan (affectionately known as Ham), a local farmer and 4-H member, said. “We’ve shown [animals] with these kids our whole lives basically, so you know everyone who’s showing in it. It’s a great way for little farms too—and even bigger farms—to kind of show off what they have in their animals.”
Aimee O’Neill, Co-Chair of the Harford County Farm Fair, Inc. Board of Directors, says one of the significant successes of the Farm Fair is its workings with 4-H.
“The Fair is centered on the annual 4-H show,” O’Neill says. “The participation in the Harford County 4-H programs has increased significantly with the move of the annual 4-H Fair in combination with the County Farm Fair.”
For O’Neill, the Farm Fair has become a way of life. A seventh generation member of O’Neill lineage to live and work in Harford County, her father, John H. O’Neill (an auctioneer, farmer, and former County Councilman), was instrumental in reviving the Fair in the late 1980s, along with many others.
“They garnered the support of the Harford County government and then-county Executive Habern Freeman, as well as area businesses such as the Klein Family; the Hess Family; the Streett Family and Crouse Construction,” said O’Neill. “The Mills family of Fallston brought the tractor pull event to the Fairgrounds and the Farm Fair began in 1988, with the support of hundreds of volunteers and the community.”
A Family Legacy
Continuing her father’s legacy, O’Neill was a member of the Farm Fair Committee from its beginnings in 1988 until joining the Board of Directors in 2000. Ten years later, she took her current position of Co-Chair, and has a litany of responsibilities, including but not limited to Kidway, Volunteers, Carnival, Stage Entertainment, Contests, and logistics as well as managing all aspects of the Fair’s operations with her fellow executive committee members, all of whom are volunteers committed to the continuance of the Harford County Farm Fair.
Remaining Relevant In An Age Of Tech
In an age where technology rules all, the Farm Fair has remained relevant as it is now the largest and longest-running event in Harford County. With agriculture being the single largest business economy in Maryland, the fair supports locally produced food and businesses while also celebrating and honoring the agricultural heritage of Harford County. As a bonus, it also teaches kids something they can’t learn from looking at their cell phones.
“To me, farming is a way of life,” farmer and 4-H parent Ronnie Short says. “[…] it’s a way for our children to learn feast or famine, survival of the fittest, as well as responsibilities for taking care of animals, and basically growing up being prepared to be an adult.”
For fellow farmer and 4-H member Ian Forbes, the fair represents togetherness and the culmination of a long year preparing for what many consider to be the annual pinnacle of a very cyclical way of life.
“For me, it’s honestly just a time where we can all come together. We all try to buy the best animals that we can; everybody wants to win. […] Most of us work all year for this show, and what it’s done for me is it’s given me a lot of responsibility to just raise ‘em (animals); feed ‘em. It’s taught me a lot,” Forbes said.
While that day-after-day, year-after-year lifestyle may seem monotonous to some, to people like Aimee O’Neill, Ronnie Short, and Ian Forbes, it is a way of life that, when described by O’Neill, seems almost romantic.
“Although there are changes and innovations in production practices, at its core, the business of agriculture is to live the “Cycle of Life,” season after season. This reliance on one’s personal efforts to produce the very essence of living–food–results in a culture of people who are self-determinate.”
It’s A Way Of Life
Yet, for those participants, whether they are farmers, volunteers, or 4-Hers, the Farm Fair can be a respite, as O’Neill would say, from the daily grind of field work. The 4-H kids get to run, play, and interact with other kids while their parents look on and socialize with other parents.
At the Harford County Farm Fair, it’s not about work, it’s about enjoying the fruits of your labor and showing the kids what it means to work hard at something and reach a goal. And isn’t that, ultimately, what life is all about?