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Subdued Calif. state fair enters final week

Heat wave and uncertainty over COVID-19 appear to have affected attendance.

Tim Hearden, Western Farm Press

July 26, 2022

8 Slides

California is holding its first state fair in three summers through July 31, yet unwavering heat and lingering uncertainties over the COVID-19 pandemic appear to have stifled attendance and contributed to a rather subdued atmosphere.

Fair officials say “tens of thousands” attended the opening weekend July 15-17 -- a drop from the 2019 opening weekend, when around 100,000 residents came to the fair, according to the Sacramento Bee.

During several afternoons last week, a smattering of people walked through the normally packed commercial-vendor buildings while many pens in the livestock pavilion were empty – a product of a more staggered schedule of animal-agriculture exhibitions.

At the fairgrounds’ farm, guests who are used to seeing plants near harvest at fair time have voiced disappointment at seeing less-abundant crops, farm manager Santos Perez said. By the time a final decision was made on whether to hold the fair this year, it was too late to plant some crops, he told Farm Press.

“We only started planting in June,” Perez said.

Also, Perez only has one employee and fewer volunteers this year, so tasks like weeding sometimes go undone, he said.

“We’re just happy that they were able to put some life back into the farm after two years of not having high school field trips” because of COVID-19-related restrictions on public gatherings, said Angela Anderson, who was selling fresh produce at the farm. “Just the fact that we were able to maintain and keep things alive and replant, it’s so nice.”

A ‘huge success’

The fair sold 8,225 unlimited ride wristbands and 14,000 fast passes during opening weekend, as well as 10,000 individual ride tickets, according to the Bee.

Fair officials said the event’s opening was a “huge success” as fairgoers appeared to be hungry for more excitement. Officials touted wine slushies in a newly expanded wine garden as a way to beat the heat, which peaked at 106 degrees in Sacramento on July 16. Among the indoor attractions are the fair's first-ever cannabis competition and exhibition, which features mostly hemp-based products.

“We’re so thrilled Opening Day was a great success,” said Rick Pickering, Cal Expo general manager and CEO. “It’s fun seeing so many people and families out having a great time and enjoying their favorites at the new additional food trucks and other additions. On Opening Day, I witnessed a family who had not seen each other in three years, and they reunited with one another at their favorite place, the California State Fair, to take part in their traditions.”

Those who attended the fair’s livestock shows were happy to get back into the swing of fair season. 4-H member Aiden Kachadorian, 17, of Wilt was celebrating his award for Best of Variety and Best of Breed in chicken judging on July 21.

“I like to see a lot of variety in breeds of chicken,” he said, noting that he’s been coming to the state fair for eight years. “It’s something you don’t see a lot.”

Justin Clark, who works for Silveira Bros. ranch in Firebaugh, was preparing a cow for the ring in the fair’s open beef show.

“We go to so many of them,” he said of fairs. “It’s a good way to showcase beef.”

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