Fairs and Expos: Engage, But Don’t Forget Security Principles

County fairs provide youth with the opportunity to tell their story about raising livestock to the media and the general public. ( Jennifer Shike, Farm Journal's PORK )

By Hannah Thompson-Weeman, Animal Agriculture Alliance

Summer is almost here. For many of us in agriculture that means one thing: fair season. County and state fairs will be in full swing very soon, giving 4-H and FFA members the opportunity to show off another year of hard work. In addition to allowing us to catch up with friends and compete in the show ring, fairs also give all of us involved in animal agriculture a unique chance to connect and engage with the general public.

In order to make the most of your time at the fair, I recommend taking the following proactive steps.

•    Make sure everyone who will be working with animals on the grounds is well-versed in proper animal care. All fairs should have an animal care policy that exhibitors review and sign. This policy should be posted on the fairgrounds.

•    Prepare all exhibitors, family members, volunteers and event staff to handle consumer questions positively and enthusiastically. I know answering the same basic questions repeatedly can be tiring, but this could be someone’s only interaction with agriculture for the year – we need to make sure it is a positive one. 

•    If you are decorating your area in the barn, think of ways to make it educational as well as visually appealing. Consider collecting handouts and educational materials from ag orgs to have available.

Unfortunately, animal rights activist orgs also see fairs as major opportunities to spread misinformation about our industry. Activist groups have been vocally targeting 4-H and FFA recently, saying that these programs turn “innocent young children into murderers.” All fair organizers and exhibitors should keep the following security principles in mind.

•    All events should have a crisis plan outlining who should do what in various scenarios – protests, disruptions, etc. Crisis plans can also address natural disasters, accidents and other issues that may arise during the event. During this planning process, local law enforcement should be consulted about how to handle activist activity at fairs. 

•    Keep an eye out for suspicious activity: people carrying signs or other protest materials, someone taking a strange amount of photos/videos or talking into a phone or camera, individuals asking very direct questions, etc. Report any concerns immediately to fair management. 

•    Avoid confrontation. Activists want attention – please avoid giving it to them. Keep your cool and let law enforcement or event management handle any issues. 

I hope this advice helps ensure that any fairs you participate in remain positive experiences for all. Happy show season! 

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