Friday, May 07, 2021

Person of the Week

Hughes Helps Tech Meet Tradition with Virtual Guilford Fair

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Lisa Hughes hopes to hit a technical homerun for Guilford Agricultural Society and the community with the Virtual Guilford Fair, coming to Facebook (@guilfordagsociety) Friday, Sept. 18 to Sunday, Sept. 20. She says the key will be driving in plenty of exhibitors who will post their photographed entries in departments of their choice beginning Saturday, Sept. 12 through Thursday, Sept. 17 at 5 p.m. Photo courtesy of Lisa Hughes

Lisa Hughes hopes to hit a technical homerun for Guilford Agricultural Society and the community with the Virtual Guilford Fair, coming to Facebook (@guilfordagsociety) Friday, Sept. 18 to Sunday, Sept. 20. She says the key will be driving in plenty of exhibitors who will post their photographed entries in departments of their choice beginning Saturday, Sept. 12 through Thursday, Sept. 17 at 5 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Hughes )

Send up that drone for a spectacular shot of your 500-pound pumpkin. Lure your loveliest llamas to the lens. Put your donkeys on digital display; place your kid’s painted pumpkins in their best light; pick the perfect pic of that jar of jam: At the 2020 Virtual Guilford Fair, technology meets tradition.

Lisa Hughes hopes to hit a technical homerun for Guilford Agricultural Society and the community with the Virtual Guilford Fair, coming to Facebook (@guilfordagsociety) Friday, Sept. 18 to Sunday, Sept. 20. She says the key will be driving in plenty of exhibitors who will post their photographed entries in departments of their choice beginning Saturday, Sept. 12 through Thursday, Sept. 17 at 5 p.m.

“The fair is a tradition for so many families. This is going to be a year when they can still exhibit, although at a distance,” says Lisa. “It’s not going to be a traditional fair, but hopefully we can pull together a few other things we are working on and post those over the weekend and just give people a little enjoyment.”

While things will no doubt be different, Lisa hopes the virtual fair will give folks who share their photos a way to show the pride they’ve put into every entry they’ve been working on this year.

“I think there’s excitement in getting prepared, in creating your entries, whether it’s working on a garden or working on a piece of art, or growing your flowers or baking a cake,” says Lisa. “People look forward to doing those things, and it’s become so much of a tradition with them. And it’s not just individuals. Classrooms do projects for the fair, organizations do projects to enter.”

After COVID-19 caused the agricultural society to make the difficult choice to cancel this year’s event at the fairgrounds on Lovers Lane, Lisa spotted an opportunity to do something different, digitally speaking. Years ago, she helped the society start up its webpage, and about 10 years ago, Lisa founded the Guilford Fair Facebook and Twitter social media sites for the group.

“I’m the one who’s been doing the fair’s Facebook and Twitter accounts since the beginning of time, and they’ve grown in recent years,” says Lisa. “Social media’s become a main part of everybody’s lives. So having done that, for all this time, when I posted [Society President] John Hammarlund’s letter to the community that we were canceling the fair, it struck me at that time that I’m posting it on a platform that is ready for anything that we want to do with it—and why not?”

The idea: Create a virtual fair celebrating as many different departments as possible by allowing people to post photos of their entries for judges to evaluate and the public to enjoy. Lisa brought her idea to the ag society, then began to work out the logistics, such as giving each department its own Facebook event page. On Aug. 2, she sent up a flare on the Facebook page teasing news that the Virtual Guilford Fair would be on display in September.

Since then, updates have continued to be posted regularly on Facebook and more details appear at www.guilfordfair.org. Right now, Lisa and the all-volunteer ag society members are doing their darndest to spread the word that the Virtual Guilford Fair will be accepting posted entries from Sept. 12 to 17 at 5 p.m. for virtual judging. Participants can enter up to six entries per department by submitting entries as a photo in the designated department’s comments area. Winners will be highlighted during the fair weekend Sept. 18 to 20.

Feedback is already coming in on Facebook, and people are showing their excitement about getting a chance to share their entries, says Lisa.

“They’re very excited about the opportunity to enter and have it shown,” says Lisa. “They want to show what they’ve done—they want an opportunity to show their hard work to the world, and if they can have it seen by everybody, then all the better.”

Virtual Guilford Fair departments include Dairy and Beef Cattle; Pony Draw; Horses; Draft Oxen; Donkey and Mule show; Llama; Goats; Sheep; Swine; Poultry; Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, and Small Animals; Vegetables; Junior Vegetables; Forage; Fruits; Baking; Canned Goods; Flowers; Junior Flowers; Needlework; Junior Needlework; Arts and Crafts (Art—2D; Craft—3D); Woodworking; Photography; Junior Department; Tractors; Barnyard; Youth Organization and Member Department; Spinning and Fiber; and Adult Collections.

What’s important for all entrants to know is that this year’s fair is about fun, says Lisa. Rules are relaxed and virtual prize ribbons will be digitally awarded as a post on winning entries.

“It’s not going to be rigidly structured like a traditional fair. It’s going to be basically something you have fun with,” says Lisa. “I can’t possibly live by the breakdown of rules each department has, so it’s very simplified. If you showed your cattle last year and you have a picture of it, post it. If I tell you to enter vegetables, and you give me a plate of mixed vegetables, then it’s mixed vegetables. This is really for the community to get a little bit of a fair fill. After the entries close and the fair starts on Friday, people can scroll and look and review any department they want.”

Keeping the spirit of the Guilford Fair alive despite the parameters of the pandemic is essential to keeping the event at the forefront until it can resume live and in person, she feels. Guilford Agricultural Society is already preparing for a big comeback next year, when the Guilford Fair will be held Sept. 17 to 19, 2021 at the fairgrounds.

Until then, Lisa says “every day without the fair going on is a day that people forget about us. We’re going to be there next year, God willing, and hopefully, they’ll come back. And in the meantime, I’d like to have a little something to carry on the tradition.”

Friend of the Fair

Like so many ag society members who volunteer and support Guilford Fair, Lisa is a friend of the fair who gives of her time and talent to help deliver its tradition and enrich the community. Her father, the late Charlie Collins, served with Guilford Police Department for 30 years, retiring as a captain in 1987. He was also a photo hobbyist who won many photo awards himself and who volunteered his talent with the ag society’s Photo Department, working with Larry Kalbfeld. Lisa got involved through their connection.

“Larry Kalbfeld and my father and I took over the photo department back over 20 years ago,” says Lisa, who then went on to offer her home-grown talents with computers to set up the first Guilford Agricultural Society website.

On her mother’s side, Lisa’s mom, Mary Collins, is a member of the town’s historic Dudley family.

“My grandfather was president of the [Guilford Savings] Bank way back when, and my uncle had previously been as well,” says Lisa. “We’ve been here a while!”

Suffice it to say, Lisa grew up with the Guilford Fair, experiencing as, a kid, something that’s near and dear to so many raised in this town.

“Kids growing up here, I’m sure, remember going to the fair,” she says. “Your September memories are going to the fair.”

Guilford Fair was founded in 1859 on the Town Green and held at harvest time so that “farmers could show off their best,” says Lisa.

As a Library of Congress Local Legacy, fair lovers around the country are well aware of the Guilford Fair.

“It started out on the green with farmers gathering, and it’s grown into this,” says Lisa.

In normal years, thousands flock the fairgrounds for three days in September, but Lisa feels the 2020 Virtual Guilford Fair can also draw thousands of guests online. She says some past posts on the fair’s Facebook page have had as many as 20,000 views.

“So I hope this brings out more people, and I hope it draws more attention to who we are and what we do,” says Lisa. “We’re non-profit, we own the property, we maintain the property and we allow the town to use it for things like [the Guilford High School 2020] graduation, for free [because] it brings the community together, and that’s why we do it.”

With a bit of Yankee ingenuity, Lisa has now helped move this historic event forward into a new virtual space, while still keeping the continuity and tradition of the Guilford Fair alive.

“What would our ancestors that started this 151 years ago say now? They’d actually probably comment that we’re ingenious. They might think that, ‘Hey, you’ve got the tools to do it,’” says Lisa. “More than anything, I hope the community will enjoy it.”


Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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