DEF — no fall fair this year?

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

The Desert Empire Fairgrounds is in serious financial difficulty. According to Mike Leming, DEF manager, there’s a 50-50 chance the Desert Empire Fair won’t be held this year. If there is a fair, it might be the last one.

“This is going on our third year where we haven’t gotten any state funding. There are 79 fairs in California, and nearly 20 of them are close to locking their gates. We’re not the only one,” he said.

Since the state cut funding to its District Agricultural Association Fair system more than two years ago, DEF has been trying to function under both the loss of the equivalent of $230,000 in annual assistance and the task of maintaining state-owned property.

Leming has written a letter to State Sen. Jean Fuller, asking for help. In the letter he outlined the many events held at DEF, the ways the fairgrounds has served the community since 1950 and how he and his remaining staff have cut expenses to the bone. He said thatFuller has already signed a letter that went to the state asking for some funding for the fairs.

“We’re in a very bad bind,” said Leming. “Where we’re at right now is if we don’t get some type of funding, this could be our last year.”

In addition to all the other pressures, a backflow device in the water supply has to be replaced, at an estimated cost of $12,000. “Truthfully, we don’t have the money,” he said.

“We’ve cut and cut and cut. Our hours now are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. There are only two part-time employees besides myself,” said Leming. He just became an independent contractor, instead of a full-time state employee, to save DEF the expense of retirement contributions.

“Coming up are April and May, two of our best months. That’s good. Unfortunately, those are followed by June, July and August — our three slowest months. If something doesn’t happen, this could be our final year.”

He went on to say that he hopes to do a “Help Save the Fair” concert in June. “If the community wants a fairgrounds, we need your support. This community has supported the fairgrounds for 65 years. We need your support more than ever. Come to our events, rent our facilities — it’s the only way we can survive. There are no other places to cut.

“I’m hoping the state will understand. They need to start throwing some money to the fairs. They cut the funding when the state budget was so tight, but it’s not so tight now.

“We have so many events out here. If the DEF goes under, all those events go away. We have to come together as a community and make it happen.”

This weekend, the fair will host a beer, wine and food walk as part of the Ridgecrest Desert Wildflower Festival. For more information, see www.desertempirefair.com.

One way to get involved is to go to the DEF board of directors’ meeting on Thursday, April 17, at 6 p.m. at the DEF boardroom. For more information, call 760-375-8000.

Story First Published: 2014-04-09