Fair: Numbers down but excitement high

Ian Bowshier, a member of Madison-Plains FFA, works with his hog during overall showmanship for 17-year-olds at last year’s Madison County Fair.

(Posted July 10, 2020)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on the number of youths participating in this year’s Madison County Junior Fair.

Normally, approximately 630 4-Hers and 80 to 100 FFA members sign up to exhibit projects at the fair, making for a total of 710 to 730 exhibitors. This year, that total is 404–a 45 percent drop.

Savannah Brock, the lead Junior Fair coordinator, said several factors appear to have contributed to the decrease in participation. Among them was uncertainty.

This spring, as fair organizers waited for word from state leaders about if and how fairs and festivals could proceed, exhibitors wondered if there would be a fair at all. The availability of meat packers was up in the air for a while, too. The senior fair board voted on May 20 to hold a Junior Fair only. Some families had already opted out due to the uncertainty.

Health concerns also likely played a role in the downturn in participation.

“You have to take into consideration that some people just aren’t comfortable being in that kind of environment with COVID going on,” Brock said.

She noted that the No. 1 question she received from potential exhibitors was whether they had to wear masks. Generally speaking, exhibitors are not required to wear masks, but fair organizers are highly encouraging them to do so. The exceptions are exhibitors with small projects, such as rabbits or poultry, that require them to be within six feet of the judge. Those youths must wear masks while close to the judge, unless the judge is wearing a face shield. Organizers have purchased face shields for judges to wear.

Brock also said some youths decided to skip this year’s fair because the experience just wasn’t going to be the same as in years past. Many participants spend the whole week at the fair, moving their projects in on Saturday and staying until the next Saturday. It’s a chance to hang out with friends for a week. This year, most projects must be moved in and out on the same day they are shown, and there are no rides or games and just one night of entertainment.

Along with the decrease in the number of participants, Brock anticipates a decrease in the number of projects youths are bringing to the fair. She pointed to her daughter as an example; her daughter usually shows a dairy cow every year but decided to only show her photography project this year.

Brock said show classes will look different this year.

“Before, we maybe would have 8-year-old, 9-year-old, and 10-year-old classes–each of them full. Now, we might be combining age groups,” she said. “We’ve tried to do our best to keep it to nine or 10 kids in a show class. Some might only have five because of the 10-person limit.”

Even with the drop in number of exhibitors and the logistics that COVID-19 safety measures require, Brock is looking forward to seeing Madison County’s 4-H and FFA youths in action this week.

“I’m still excited we’re going to have a fair, and I’m still excited for the kids who were willing to come,” she said.

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