Agrifair: 102 years of volunteerism

Behind-the-scenes work at the annual Abbotsford family fair is coming to fruition

Abbotsford's Agrifair runs Aug. 2-6.

Abbotsford's Agrifair runs Aug. 2-6.

Hundreds of volunteers, many who work virtually year-round, are about to bring “the best little country fair” back for the 102nd showing of Agrifair.

Where Pigs Fly is the theme of this year’s event, held Aug. 2-6, in a nod to the 50th anniversary of the Abbotsford Airshow the following weekend (Aug. 10-12).

The 36,500 people who attend Agrifair benefit from the dedication of a handful of key people.

The not-for-profit organization is run by a board of 16 directors who work year-round, each of them heading a committee to handle a specific aspect of the fair, such as stage entertainment, and the rodeo.  President Ernie Silveri returned to head the board of directors this year.

“It’s phenomenal the amount of time these guys put in,” said David Schmidt, who has been in  charge of media relations for the past 15 years.

He said the planning began in earnest in February.

There have been big projects, such as bleacher seating that has been upgraded for spectators watching entertainment in the rodeo ring. There will also be a new Agriland, with demonstrations of gardening, composting and even bee keeping.

And there are also behind-the-scenes jobs. For example, it’s one matter to book an entertainment act, such as the military men of Lord Strathcona’s Horse, but then arrangements have to be made for food and lodging for the soldiers.

“There are all kinds of little details that need to be looked after,” said Schmidt.

During the five days of the fair, more than 200 volunteers augment the efforts of the committee. They do jobs that are not necessarily fun, such as picking up litter on the grounds. They will put in four-hour shifts, sometimes working eight-hour days, for pizza and a T-shirt.

“They love the fair, and they want to be part of it, said Schmidt. “They’ve always done it, or their mom and dad have always done it. Some do it just to support the community, and some do it to get work experience.

“The fair gets in your blood. These people look forward to it every year – even though it’s work.”

The directors work to balance an annual budget of more than $600,000, and they have put on the show without raising prices for a decade. Last year, they took a serious hit – $100,000 in lost revenue – with the closure of the Fat Pig Saloon.

“It had gotten too rambunctious for a family fair,” explained Schmidt.

There are still two licensed areas where a fairgoer can seek out a frosty adult beverage. One is in the food court, which features a beer garden, and the other is at the rodeo venue. Unlike the Fat Pig Saloon, where the party went late into the night, the rodeo venue closes at 10 p.m.

Entertainment this year includes singer A.J. Woodworth on Saturday at 9 p.m., rock band Starfield on Sunday evening at 7 p.m., a mounted troop from Lord Strathcona’s Horse daily, and a range of attractions from paintball to a wrestling show. The always popular Mighty Fraser Pro Rodeo will be held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m.

For more information see the show’s website at agrifair.ca.

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