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We need county fairs more than ever

The last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to visit many county fairs across the state. Meeting exhibitors, various fair board members, and visitors has been the highlight of my month. While visiting these fairs, many people expressed their concern for continuing the tradition of their local fair. How can we encourage more participation from 4-H, FFA and open class exhibitors to showcase the importance of county fairs?

The county fair’s importance dates back to a time when people loved to get together and celebrate. From showcasing their harvest, crafts, pies and more; it brought the community together.

It makes me sad when I see a historical tradition on the verge of fading away, as most of my favorite memories began at my local county fair. I was the kid who tried everything. I showed dairy, horses, and brought an entire van filled of projects to the fair. Some projects were special as they got the nod to head to the Wisconsin State Fair…while others turned out to be a great learning experience.

County fairs are vital for rural communities. Here are 5 reasons why county fairs are more important than ever:

There is more than just ribbons

I’ll be the first to say that I learned way more from a white or red ribbon than a blue ribbon. Of course I tried my best to get a blue, but the projects that I received anything less than a blue, I tried so much harder the next year. Without competition, there would be no reason to showcase the best and learn from the best. Working towards being your best self and doing your best work is what helps youth continue to work hard for years to come.

Our state rewards hard work. In fact, in 2016 Wisconsin Fairs paid a total of $814,287 in premiums to youth and adult exhibitors based on their placement in their participating categories.

Many lessons happen in the show-ring. Whether it was learning how to present yourself and you project in front of a judge or reaching out to businesses prior to the fair and asking them if they would be interested in buying it at the meat animal sale, fairs bring people together for friendly competition and life lessons.

Brings the community together each and every year

“More than 3 million people attended 76 Wisconsin county/area fairs in 2016.” - Wisconsin Association of Fairs Annual Report

I’m guilty of saying “I’ve been so busy,” or “things have been crazy.” It seems like life’s busy schedules get in the way of friendships and fun. Each and every year at the same time, my county fair would happen. Our family would plan our entire schedule around the fair each year. We’d also have the chance of meeting up with friends we hadn’t seen in months. We’d come together to socialize, catch up on local gossip (guilty!), learn, and enjoy good food and entertainment.

Friends and I at the Manitowoc County Fair

Explore new projects and interests

“The first objective of any fair is to present a teaching/learning experience done in a way that is enjoyable for all ages.” – Wisconsin Association of Fairs Annual Report.

From cattle to ceramics, there is an activity and project for everyone. Statewide the top four categories for premium payments to exhibitors were:

Joanna and I pose with a cute Brown Swiss calf. County fairs are a great way to make new friends and have fun!