Boots Hetherington finds something special at each fair or festival
Boots Hetherington from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture tries to visit as many of the 109 fairs and festivals throughout Pennsylvania. (Photo by Sandra Lepley / May 29, 2013)
In fact, Hetherington visited the Pennsylvania Maple Festival in March as the first stop in his long laundry list of travels throughout the state to fairs and festivals this season. The maple festival kicks off the festival season each year.
Somerset County has three events qualifying under the state fair program and that includes Pennsylvania Maple Festival in Meyersdale in late March, Somerset County Fair at the county fairgrounds in Meyersdale in late August, and Berlin Brothersvalley Community Fair in mid-September.
This year's Somerset County Fair is set for Aug. 17-24. The Berlin Fair is set for Sept. 8 and Sept. 11-14.
Hetherington also served as the guest speaker for the tree tapping ceremony Feb. 23 at Baer Brothers Camp (the Lynch family) in Somerset Township. At that time, he said that he works closely with state Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar from Somerset County to make agriculture a priority in legislative issues.
These are some questions about fairs and festivals that Boots responded to through emailing.
1. How many fairs and festivals are there in the state of Pennsylvania?
There are 109 fairs scheduled for 2013. The Pennsylvania Maple Festival kicks off the 2013 fair season.
2. In the busy season coming up, how many fairs does the Department of Agriculture staff attend and in what areas?
The Department of Agriculture staff makes an effort to visit all of Pennsylvania's fairs — from the Great Lakes region to Pittsburgh to northeast mountains, the wilds and Dutch country.
3. Do you enjoy traveling around the state and what do you find out there — how is each fair alike and how are they different?
You won't see the same things from fair to fair. Each apple pie or quilt carries its own unique brand shaped by the hands that made it. Whether in a busy barn just before show time or on a midway with countless lights and sounds like Times Square, each fair offers a thousand different experiences.
4. With the severe budget cuts a few years ago, how many fairs did Pennsylvania lose?
Before the economic problems started in the late 2000s, Pennsylvania had 117 fairs. That means that we lost eight. There are a few fairs that are still not financially solvent, but by and large fairs have tremendous support from their local communities and are doing well. It is noteworthy to mention that the Berlin Brothersvalley Community Fair is celebrating its 75th anniversary in the fall.
5. Do you think that the budget cuts for fairs and festivals possibly had a good twist because these nonprofits turned to local communities for help and devised new fundraisers?
Many fairs have turned decreased funding into an opportunity. There are additional events held at the fair grounds to generate income to help with the off season expenses. What used to be empty buildings are now rented out to boat, camper, and RV owners for winter storage. In many cases fairs have reached out successfully to the business community and to the public for sponsorships. The Somerset County (and other counties) Commissioners have found ways to provide financial support for fairs.
6. Is state fair and festival budgeting increasing this year? If so, what does that mean for our three events in Somerset County?
Funding in 2011 was $874,000. All of the fairs received 33.3 percent of their eligible funding requests. In 2012 Gov. Tom Corbett and Pennsylvania General Assembly increased Pennsylvania Fair Funding to $2 million. The three Somerset County events will all receive about 74 percent of their 2012 eligible funding requests, which is more than double of what they received in 2011. The 2013-2014 budget proposal, presented by Gov. Tom Corbett in February, calls for an increase in fair funding to $2.5 million. If the legislature agrees with this proposal, it will increase funding reimbursement for the 2013 fair season to about 95 percent.
7. In your tree tapping ceremony (Feb. 23) speech, you said, "the great part about our state is that agriculture is the No. 1 industry (with $6.7 billion and a $67 billion economic impact) and tourism is the No. 2 industry so the county fairs are agriculture and tourism all rolled into one." Give some further details on that statement.