‘GoFundMe,’ pleads the Franklin County Fair

  • Franklin County Agricultrual Society President Fred Steiner in front of some of the food service buildings at the Franklin County Farigrounds. Recorder file photo

Published: 3/2/2019 10:39:17 AM

It’s a shame when Franklin County’s premier agricultural fair has to start a GoFundMe drive just to survive. Yet that is the prospect before the Franklin County Agricultural Society, which recently got the stomach-churning estimate of $500,000 to fix an erosion problem affecting homes below the fairgrounds.

“I shook for half an hour,” said FCAS President Fred Steiner. “To take on a debt this size, in a few years it could quickly put the fair out of existence.”

Erosion problems are notoriously expensive to fix, requiring engineering expertise, large pieces of equipment and human labor. In March of 2011, for example, about 6,000 cubic yards of soil slid down the eastern side of the Green River Cemetery and onto Meridian Street, damaging properties, burying one man’s car in mud and water while he was in it. Firefighters rescued him, unharmed. The site was declared a disaster area and the road was closed while crews dealt with the mud and repaired property damage.

In 2014, the city received a $162,850 hazard mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to shore up the steep hillside portion of Greenfield River Cemetery, for which the Green River Cemetery Association provided a 25 percent match of $54,283. “It was fortunate we had the opportunity to apply for relief via FEMA,” said Mayor William Martin at the time.

To be clear, the historic Roundhouse is not at risk of falling off the edge of a ravine, nor are any of the fairgrounds buildings. But the future of the nonprofit society itself is threatened by the impending bill.

It’s not a new problem and the FCAS has gamely tackled it in the past, spending about $20,000 several years ago on a plan thought to be a permanent fix. Instead, the fix turned out to be a mere Band-Aid.

Recent consultations with the same engineer who worked on the cemetery mudslide have been underway, and Steiner had been bracing himself for estimates of $200,000 or $250,000 to address the problem. But paying for $500,000 worth of repairs could sink the society. Hence the plans for the online GoFundMe donation page and actual buckets to receive cash donations.

Such efforts are, literally, a drop in the bucket.

The board has pursued funding opportunities with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, but because the agricultural society is a nonprofit organization and not a public body, the federal agency that oversees MEMA overruled giving money, said board member Michael Nelson. Steiner and Nelson also spoke with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, to no avail.

U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, a longtime champion of our farmers, said he is looking into federal funding possibilities. It’s possible FEMA may be more receptive to a call from the congressman.

“I feel very strongly about supporting our farmers and our agricultural economy,” McGovern said on Feb. 22. “Occasions like the Franklin County Fair that celebrate agriculture help people better appreciate the work of our farmers and the food that’s grown and raised here.”

The embankment is seen as somewhat stable, for the time being, although residents impacted by the erosion, and the society’s board, hold their breath every time it rains. And it seems to rain more often.

In a best case scenario, McGovern and our other local legislators will succeed in shaking loose some state or federal grant money to pay for the fix, but grants almost always require matching funds from the recipient. So watch for those buckets to appear throughout the county and drop your spare change (or more) in. Steiner said we need to come together and work as one, “and hopefully we’ll see the daylight at the end of the other side.”

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if some of our tax dollars could save our Fair.




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