FAIRFIELD – The Greater Jefferson County Fair wrapped up on Monday, June 29, with the premium auction at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
The fair was different this year because of the coronavirus. The event consisted solely of 4-H and FFA shows, open only to family members of the exhibitors.
There was no carnival, grandstand entertainment or kids’ games. At the last minute, food vendors were approved, and a few different ones showed up during the week to sell walking tacos and other fair food.
Many 4-H exhibitors commented on how quiet the fair was this year. There was not the normal hustle and bustle throughout the fairgrounds as in a typical year. But inside the show arena, the proceedings looked like any other year. Exhibitors led their animals around the ring while a judge studied both the animal and its handler.
In order to facilitate social distancing, the fair board added bleachers at the east and west ends of the show arena, which it does not normally do. A bottle of hand sanitizer was put on a post for members of the audience to clean their hands or their seat. Organizers had originally hoped to bring in a hand-washing station, too, but in the end that didn’t happen.
Officially, masks were encouraged at the event, although they were seldom seen. Most fairgoers went without them, except perhaps for a few elderly spectators in the bleachers. One of those was Bonnie Johnson, who attended the fair Friday, June 26, to watch her grandsons Zach and Ryan Dowd show swine. Johnson was the only one to wear a mask to the show. She said she’s being very cautious, and that her trip to the fairgrounds was one of the few occasions she’s left the house since the pandemic began. She goes to the grocery store as little as she can, and doesn’t have people over. She tries to wash her hands as much as she can.
Ryan Dowd said he would have been disappointed if the fair had been canceled and was glad that he got to show his swine, even if the fair was missing a lot of other activities.
“The fair is pretty important to me, and it’s something I really enjoy doing,” Ryan said.
Eric Miller, a member of the Jefferson County ISU Extension Council, said it wasn’t a tough decision in his mind whether to hold a fair. He said the kids put too much effort into their animals and exhibits for them to be denied a chance to show them.
“They always have the chance to stay home if they’re uncomfortable with it,” he said.
Miller said he felt that the pandemic has been overblown and that the idea of closing everything down for it struck him as “ridiculous.” He felt the extension council and fair board did a good job of taking appropriate measures to limit the spread of the virus.
Elly Stremsterfer leads 4-H Clover Kids and the Future Leaders 4-H Group. She was worried early in the year that the coronavirus might lead to the fair’s cancellation and was thrilled that the kids got to have one after all. She said the ag industry is more accustomed to taking extreme measures to stop the spread of disease, so she didn’t feel like this year was too different from a normal year. For instance, she mentioned how her husband, Wade, who works with hogs, has to shower when going from one hog barn to another so he doesn’t track any diseases with him.
Stremsterfer said most families at the fair were sticking together and not mixing too much with non-family members.
Fair board President Mike Filson said he was pleased with the participation numbers this year.
“I’d say it was very comparative to previous years,” he said.
Filson said some shows were down a bit in participation such as horses, sheep, goats, poultry and several of the small animal shows. Some shows were down by as much as 50 percent. At the same time, other shows like swine and beef had about the same number of kids as always.
“The main thing we wanted was something for the kids,” Filson. “I think we did a good job of that, and we’ve gotten a lot of compliments from people thanking us for doing what we did. I feel it’s been a success.”
Filson said it’s hard to know how many kids stayed home because of coronavirus fears and how many stayed home for other reasons, such as uncertainty about the county fair or state fair.
Although the parents and exhibitors were happy to attend the fair, the lack of a carnival and grandstand entertainment is hitting the fair board in the pocketbook. Filson didn’t say exactly how much money the board lost from having to cancel those events but said it was substantial.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “And we’re normally renting these buildings out [on the fairgrounds] throughout the year, and we haven’t had any rentals until just recently.”
Filson said there’s no such thing as “virus insurance” like there is for bad weather that cancels a grandstand event. He said the board is just out all the revenue it would have made. Filson said the board will try to make up for the loss by hosting a quad race this weekend, July 3-4, and possibly hosting monthly races after that.
“We need something to bring in a little bit of revenue,” he said.