SENECA FALLS — One of the largest farm shows in the Northeast is off for this summer.
And Empire Farm Days officials are openly expressing their disappointment.
Citing state coronavirus guidelines limiting gatherings to no more than 25 people, the Seneca County Board of Supervisors voted June 23 not to grant a waiver from the county’s mass gatherings law for Farm Days. The event was scheduled for July 29-31 at the Rodman Lott & Son Farms on Route 414.
The board voted not to grant the usual Farm Days waiver from the county’s mass gatherings law, which was created to prevent a Woodstock-like music festival in the county.
County officials issued a statement June 24, saying the board’s decision followed “input from various representatives of Seneca County and local emergency management, first responders, law enforcement, public health, as well as input from the state Department of Agriculture & Markets.”
“We are not happy that circumstances forced the board to take this action,” said supervisors Chairman Bob Hayssen, R-Varick. “However, we can only make decisions that protect the safety of our community as a whole.”
Also unhappy are officials at Lee Newspapers, Inc., current owners of Empire Farm Days.
“We are beyond upset with the decision of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors to not allow Empire Farm Days to take place,” Bruce Button, Lee vice president and general manager, said in a statement issued Wednesday.
Lee Newspapers, of Palatine Bridge, Montgomery County, is the owner and promoter of EFD since last year when the company purchased the event from the Empire State Potato Growers.
“(The county) cited the fact that there was not enough time for the various agencies to review the permits we applied for, even though we are still over 30 days out from the show dates,” Button said.
He acknowledged that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directives “tied the hands” of the county by not providing any clear guidance for an event such as Farm Days.
“Our attendees are from the rural areas of New York state that have had the least incidences of this virus and our exhibitors are the essential businesses that have been open throughout this whole time period,” Button said. “What possible harm could come to the people of Seneca County except to have hotels and restaurants as busy as possible?”
Other reasons supervisors listed for the waiver denial were the lack of timely permit applications from EFD officials and the potential adverse impact on the public health and safety of the Seneca County community as a whole. County officials said the decision was overwhelmingly supported by the board.
“With a pandemic emergency, these are not ordinary times,” said county Public Health Director Vickie Swinehart. “What was acceptable a year ago is not acceptable for our community today.”
Hayssen added: “There has been a long history of success with this event in Seneca County, held at the Rodman Lott & Son Farms in Seneca Falls. It is hoped that as circumstances change, Empire Farm Days will return to Seneca County better than before.”
Button noted that Farm Days “is not a county fair with rides, games or a concentration of attendees that county fairs have.”
“This is an ag community business event,” he said. “Now over 400 businesses no longer have the opportunity to meet their customers. Numerous non-profits have lost their only source of revenue. How is all of his economic activity going to be replaced?”
Button said organizers had a “solid” safety plan in place, heeding all recommendations from the health department, code enforcement and Ag & Markets and could easily comply with all of them to make the event safe for attendees and exhibitors. He said the 25-person limit to gatherings was “the last straw.”
County Attorney David Ettman said the event “does not qualify for any exceptions and there is no reason to believe any future lessening of the restrictions for this type of event will be forthcoming.”
Button mentioned protests across the country and pointed out that there was no way of knowing who the protesters are and where they come from. However, he said, EFD has a list of all attendees, the exhibits would have been spread out more than usual, and there would have been numerous sanitation stations on the grounds, at restrooms and at food service areas.
Empire Farm Days began as Potato Field Day in 1930 in Honeoye. Through the years, it was hosted at various farms around the state. It became a two-day show in 1961 and was renamed Empire Farm Days in 1967. The event moved permanently to the Lott Farm in 1988 and grew to a three-day event, drawing thousands of people to the area each summer.
Despite this year’s issues caused by COVID-19, Button said that EFD would return Aug. 3-5, 2021.