Vermont Farm Show canceled for 3rd straight year

Vermont Agricultural Exposition
Attendees look at a cow at the Vermont Farm Show in 2018. File photo by Bob LoCicero/VT Digger

Following pandemic-related cancellations in 2021 and 2022, organizers have again canceled the Vermont Farm Show for January 2023.

Farmers from across the state and region typically attend the annual trade show, which has been going since the 1930s, to meet suppliers and learn about new technologies in the industry. It is also a place where farm organizations hold annual meetings and where farmers from different corners of Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Canada and beyond can connect.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, attendance plummeted and fewer vendors signed up for spots, said Kyla Bedard, vice chair of the Vermont Farm Show board. The 2021 and 2022 shows have been canceled due to the pandemic.

The council is currently without a chair, she said. Dave Martin, the former chairman, resigned at the end of a three-year term, as required by board bylaws. They also lack an agricultural show manager, who would usually organize and run the show.

“Being an all-volunteer board, it was like a huge elevator to pull it all together, Bedard said.

With help from the state Agriculture, Food and Markets Agency, the council plans to coordinate a panel discussion with agriculture leaders to “ensure the event evolves.” with the current needs and desires of Vermont’s farming community in the 21st century”. The group plans to meet for the first time this week.

Anson Tebbetts, secretary of the Agriculture Agency, said the three-day event could have posed a challenge for sellers who had to walk away from their business during this period.

Bedard said the show was held during the winter to make it easier for farmers to attend, but the midweek daytime schedule may still have been a barrier for attendees.

Agriculture, like other industries, has changed in response to the vast online market, Tebbetts said, which may also have made the show less vital for some farmers.

“E-commerce has changed the world, and agriculture is not alone in this,” he said. “So those one-to-one personal relationships that maybe were hugely valued ten years ago may not be as important as they are now, because they have a different way of communicating with their farmers about how to sell them their products.

Still, farmers and vendors described the show to VTDigger as a place to build new social and business relationships, and said the absence of the show for another year will mark a loss for the local industry.

“We used to go out there, take our employees, take a day off and go up,” said Brian Kemp, chair of the board of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition. “We’ve always loved seeing farmers that you don’t see at other times of the year.”

Bob Almeida, owner of the Orwell-based Homestead Fence Company, was a salesman at the show. Although he currently has a lot of work to keep himself busy, he often meets new clients at the salon and reconnects with clients he has worked with in the past.

“We were kind of looking forward to it,” he said. “We have relationships like with a lot of other providers – that’s when we see them, from all over the state, from New Hampshire and all that. That’s a shame.”

Steve Taylor, former commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food, said many members of New Hampshire’s farming community often attend the Vermont show, and vice versa.

“You have to look at it in the context of what’s happening in agriculture,” said Taylor, who lives in Plainfield, New Hampshire.

Some wonder if the show’s problems are a reflection of broader challenges in the industry as a whole. Vermont’s farming community has seen a demographic shift, Bedard said, and an increase in consolidations coupled with a loss of small farmers means the number of farmers in the state has declined.

While those changes may be a factor, it’s hard to say exactly what’s influencing event attendance, Bedard said. Regardless, she said the board had expressed unanimous agreement for the show to return in future years.

“Hopefully with a collaboration of partners behind us, we can come back better than ever in 2024,” Bedard said.

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