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This year's Erie County Fair goes hybrid, with some in-person and some virtual events

Mike Desmond
After years of record attendance, this was the parking lot on opening day of the Erie County Fair Wednesday.

Wednesday would have been opening day of the Erie County Fair, but there is no fair this year because of COVID-19. Even so, officials are trying to retain some features of the iconic summer event.

Fair CEO Jessica Underberg said one fair tradition will continue to be prominent: the event ties the public to food producers.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Erie County Fair CEO Jessica Underberg announces this year's hybrid model.

"We connect the 2% that are involved in agriculture with the 98% of our community that is not, and we are going to miss that this year," Underberg said. "We are going to do the best that we can through virtual school programs and offering different things to school virtually. But nothing replaces that opportunity to get and sit and visit with a child who's raised an animal for the last year and let them share with you what they know about that project."

On Saturday, the judging of animals raised by the county's young people continues in some barns. This Ag Bonanza will not be the traditional judging, with crowds watching. Instead, the youngsters and their sheep, meat goats, dairy goats and llamas will participate in an animal costume class, with a public relations classes for those llamas.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Animals will continue to be judged this year, but without crowds watching.

The big event Saturday evening will be Blast Out Hunger. Donors are invited to bring food for FeedMore and then sit in their cars - socially distant - and watch a giant fireworks show. Underberg said this food-raising day has been around since 2013 and last year raised 53,000 lbs. of food on opening day.

"Knowing that the need is so much more this year and without that one-day collection, we knew we had to do something," Underberg said. "I don't know how many cars to expect and to plan for that night, but I hope that at the end of the night we say, 'You know what? We matched last year's record."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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