WEST FARGO, N.D. — Cody Cashman in May 2020 was named manager of the Red River Valley Fair Association, which also puts him in charge of the 40th annual Big Iron farm show, coming up Sept. 15-17.

Cashman, 28, is the seventh manager for Big Iron — one of the largest U.S. farm shows in terms of space.

And he was practically born to the job. Cody grew up in his native Carroll County, Md., and often spent days at the knee of his father, Andrew, who manages the Maryland State Fair at Timonium, Md., in Baltimore County.

He saw his father’s joy in managing one the country’s top 30 fair in the country, drawing about 500,000 people over 11 days — roughly four times the West Fargo fair.

Since he was 8, Cashman wanted to manage a large, ag-related fair.

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Andrew groomed his son for the work by giving him work experience in every department.

A boy’s dream

Livestock exhibits were second-nature because he grew up on a two-acre lot in the town of New Windsor, Md., and showed pigs, sheep and cattle in FFA and 4-H shows. His older brother became a meat scientist.

When Cashman graduated high school in 2011 he went on for a two-year degree at the University of Maryland in the Institute of Applied Agriculture. He gained work experience at the Wisconsin State Fair and an internship with Deggler Attractions,of Stuart, Fla., which bills itself as “America’s No. 1 carnival company."

In 2013 he went to the International Association of Fairs and Expos, at Las Vegas, looking for a job. In 2014, he started full-time worked six years in sales and business development at the York (Pa.) State Fair, which has 250 events year-round. That property hosts the annual Keystone Farm Show, an indoor farm show.

In 2016, he married Megan, a civil engineer, who stays home with children, Wyatt, 3, and Casey, 2. His wife knew he wanted his own fair to manage, and in 2020 he found the RRVF job listing on the association website.

The interviews were all via computer, on Zoom. Because of COVID-19, he never got the chance to come visit the Red River Valley Fairgrounds prior to moving.

“Never did we ever dream we’d be moving to North Dakota,” he said, but he felt it would be a good place to raise a young family.

Tough calls

From the start, Cashman dealt with the pandemic.

North Dakota health officials asked the board to cancel the fair. But Cashman told the staff and the board that he “did not come here to sit on my hands” and so they launched drive-in movies on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. They have “Fair Food Thursdays,” all with social distancing.

He would tell everyone to go out and support your local fair — "they need it right now,” Cashman said.

The Big Iron decision was easier, he said. The board consulted with North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who dubbed it “essential business” — not entertainment.

They came up with health strategies.

“The county health department is very comfortable with our plan,” Cashman said.

The key is the size of the show, and the ability of the show to spread out booths.

“The fair’s footprint is probably 60 acres, where Big Iron is 150 acres, because of the way we do it,” he said. “We space people out.”

Big Iron will take out middle aisles in exhibit buildings, spacing things so people can properly social-distance. They’ll put hand sanitation stations throughout the site.

“We hope everyone wears masks, but we’re not mandating it unless the government tells us we have to,” he said.

They moved the 200-foot-long food court farther south and west to what’s known as the “Livestock Lot” — a 600-foot-long space which is set up for trailers.

Despite the measures, two of the biggest exhibitors — John Deere and Case-IH — withdrew in early August. About a dozen exhibitors have bowed out, but those spaces likely will be filled from a waiting list of more 80 — some on the list for years.

“We’re getting three to five e-mails a day, throughout the country, asking to come because all of the other farm shows have cancelled,” Cashman said in late August. The absence of the larger players may become an opportunity for other companies.

Cashman sees the show as an “opportunity for serious buyers,” and not the non-farm public.

“A lot of people don’t understand how essential these farm shows are, around the country, to a lot of these businesses,” he said. “It’s where they get the chance to meet, face-to-face, with some of these farmers. And it’s really important.”

Big Iron managers over the years

Cody Cashman is the seventh person to manage the Big Iron Farm Show since it began in 1980.

  • Marv Witt —1980-86

  • Jennifer Johnson Seltzer — 1987-1989

  • Bruce A. Olson — 1990-2005

  • John Pitz — 2006

  • Wayne Venter — 2007

  • Bryan Schulz — 2008-2019

  • Cody Cashman — 2020