Summer is my favorite season, and it isn’t just because of the warm weather and weekend trips to the beach. For me, summer has always been county fair season. Some of my best memories are from early mornings on the washrack, late nights playing cards in the barn and of course showing off a year’s worth of hard work in the show ring.

While many of us in agriculture see fairs and expositions as an opportunity to connect with consumers and share what we do, unfortunately animal rights extremist organizations are approaching these events with an entirely different agenda – to disrupt and protest, ultimately bringing attention to their cause. A group named Direct Action Everywhere has made headlines this year for disrupting everything from Bernie Sanders rallies to the Pennsylvania Farm Show with the goal of promoting their desire for animals to be recognized with full “personhood.”

It is an unfortunate reality that in addition to packing a showbox, ordering the ribbons and trophies and lining up the judges, anyone involved in a fair or exposition this summer needs to also prepare for activist protests and disruptions. Whether you are an exhibitor or on the fair committee, preparation and planning is key to ensuring the event is a positive and educational experience for everyone.

A few tips:

  • Contact local law enforcement and let them know about your potential concerns. Ask for their advice about handling different scenarios and when you should get them involved. This could also be a great opportunity to build a relationship by inviting them to stop by the show and learn more about your industry.
  • Monitor online conversation to see if you may be a target. Protests are frequently organized on websites or social media. Search the web and social media for the name of your event a few times a week leading up to the event. Also, be aware of high-profile visitors or activities going on that may draw media (and therefore activist) attention.
  • Establish a protocol to follow in the event of protests or disruptions. Designate clear roles and responsibilities – including media spokespeople – and have back-ups in place in case the primary individuals are unavailable.
  • Draft an animal welfare policy for your farm or club. Have every exhibitor affiliated with you sign the policy and keep it readily available during the event. Having your commitment to animal care clearly written out will help demonstrate how seriously you take it if it’s questioned by a visitor.

While you prepare for the worst, you should also hope and plan for the best – meaningful engagement with curious fairgoers. Before you load the trailer and pull out of your driveway, take some time to brush up on your industry’s talking points and key messages. The Alliance also has many outreach and security resources, so don’t hesitate to visit or call us at 703-562-5160 if you have questions.

Good luck this fair season! If you need me, I’ll be at the lemon shake-up stand.