HARRISBURG, Pa. — Although the Pennsylvania Farm Show is back in person this year after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to be held virtually in 2021, COVID-19 continues to negatively affect vendors.
In past years, the Farm Show saw an average of 500,000 visitors throughout the eight-day event. Organizers said they didn’t have exact numbers on how many visitors have come so far this year, but that it is well below the previous years’ average.
“I do think maybe there's a bit more elbow room here than in the past,” said Matt Gabler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association, which promotes Pennsylvania-grown hard wood.
The surge of the omicron variant is the major reason why attendance is down, according to organizers. The Farm Show Complex strongly suggested people wear masks at the show, but on Tuesday, the majority did not.
Winter weather was another factor preventing some from driving to the Farm Show Complex.
In addition to fewer visitors, several vendors backed out of attending because of COVID-19 outbreaks running through their staffs.
Vendors who did staff their booths said sales were down, in correlation with the lower attendance.
“It’s definitely down," said Kyle Dewees, owner of Whiskey Hollow Maple in Bradford County, who was volunteering at the Farm Show’s Pennsylvania Maple Syrup Council booth. "It’s slower. It’s a little over 50 percent, I would say, of what the Farm Show normally is, but it’s definitely slower this year,”
Though profits won’t be as high this year, the maple syrup booth serves another function.
“A lot of people don’t even know that Pennsylvania makes syrup. If we can help educate people and tell them that they can go home to their local producer, that’s just as good as making a sale, for us,” Dewees said.
Dewees added that many of the visitors he spoke with came to the Farm Show specifically to buy products they can only get there, so those products were selling.
However, Gabler says low attendance has a silver lining; it allows more time to talk with visitors.
“People have been maybe moving through a little bit slower, taking an opportunity to have a better conversation, so we're certainly finding that it's been a decent farm show for us,” Gabler said.
Attendance will likely pick up a little over the weekend, organizers said.