A week-plus showcase of Lebanon County agriculture – one not that only hosts 60,000 visitors, prepares 9,000 pounds of french fries, 2,500 hot dogs, 600 pounds each of pork roll and bologna, and hundreds of gallons of ice cream, but also draws exhibitors and contestants for competitions ranging from pie baking to a demolition derby – isn’t something you throw together in a few weeks or months. According to organizers, it’s a year ’round effort.
For many dedicated volunteers, the planning for the 2022 Lebanon Area Fair, which opens on July 23 and runs for eight days, began even before the 2021 version closed last July 31.
As soon as one year’s fair is over, “we get together and talk about what went well, what didn’t – money, security, insurance – all that kind of stuff,” said Sue Werner, the fair’s assistant chair.
“We” is the fair’s board of directors and 29 committees, ranging from 16 members to two, who are responsible for signing up exhibitors, competitors, and entertainers, coordinating trash collection, security, traffic, parking, and more.
Most committees stay in touch throughout the year, and begin their serious preparations in the spring.
It’s probably and understatement to say that food and drink are a big part of the fair. Jodi Dresch chairs the refreshment committee and her mother, Carol Kreider, heads the barbecue committee.
“It’s in the back of your mind all year long, but we usually start actually getting together in April,” Dresch said. “We started a little earlier this year because of shortages and supply chain problems. And because of inflation, we wanted to lock in lower prices.”
About a week before opening day, Dresch said an 18-wheeler from food service company Sysco – stuffed with frozen food, paper products, utensils, and garbage bags – will roll onto the fairgrounds. She and her volunteers will then be responsible for distributing the goods to the individual booths and vendors and keeping them supplied for eight days.
Barbecue meat is supplied by Bell & Evans Poultry and Hatfield Meats. Kreider, who has been working at the fair for over 40 years, said her committee sold 3,500 chicken barbecue dinners last year, and the same number of ham barbecues. She hopes to sell at least that many this year.
That’s more than fairgrounds facilities can handle, so some of the work is done off site.
“Peters Barbecue in Manheim cooks our chicken, then trucks it to the fair,” Kreider said. “And Dutchway Farm Market slices the ham at their store in Myerstown, then then trucks it to the grounds, where we cook it.”
Michelle Kaufman chairs the commercial exhibits and food vendor committee and the security committee. This year, she and her exhibit committee are responsible for signing up 55 vendors and exhibitors and figuring out were to place them.
“On Sunday [before opening day], a crew of us will be out at the fairgrounds marking off spaces for the outside vendors,” she said.
When Kaufman wears her security committee hat, she coordinates with a private security company to insure that fairgoers have a safe and enjoyable experience.
“We also work with the North Cornwall Township police, and they stop in every few hours or whenever they’re free and walk through,” she said.
The fair has to keep a constant eye on the competition, which sometimes means booking some acts a full two years in advance.
“We compete with other fairs,” Werner said. “If you look at the list of all fairs in Pennsylvania, our week is pretty doggone popular.”
“And now, the York State Fair has moved into our week,” Werner noted. “Some of our vendors would have gone to both in past years, but now they have to make a choice.”
Werner said Lebanon is holding its own against the larger York fair, which bills itself as America’s first.
“Some vendors elected to stay with us, some went down to York, and some went down to York and said ‘you know, we miss Lebanon,'” Werner said.
If you’re going to the Lebanon Area Fair
Admission to the grounds is free between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. After 3 p.m., ages 10 and up pay a $5 admission fee. Children under 10 are admitted free all day, every day.
Events at the track, such as the popular truck and tractor pulls require additional admission fees.
The fair’s websitee contains a complete calendar of events.
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