Fairs are finding a way: Henry County

By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader: a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean checkoff.

Communications is critical in working through the pandemic. Communicating early and often has allowed the Henry County Jr. Fair to occur in what has otherwise been a tumultuous 2020. The Henry County Sr. Fair board voted on June 10 to hold a Jr. Fair only along with non-spectator harness racing for their mid-August Fair.

“We started talking to the Henry County Health Department officials back in April when we had an indication that things might need to be change from our normal schedule,” said Wayne Michaelis, Henry County Agricultural Society Director. “By starting the dialogue early on, and communicating with them every step along the way we all agreed that we needed to be able to do something for the kids that have had so much taken away from them this year with everything being cancelled.”

Running a Jr. Fair program takes money. “When we made the decision to move forward, we looked back, and the 2019 Jr. Fair cost around $35,000 to host,” said Michaelis. “We are fortunate in Henry County to have a lot of volunteers and donations that help us keep our cost down. Items like event security, and safety services such as fire and rescue, we have had a great relationship over the years with the County Sheriff, and local Fire and EMS that donate their services, and we make a donation back after it is all done. We have Fair board members that bring in their own equipment from their farms and businesses to use during the week. That saves us a lot of money.”

On June 9, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued an executive order making $50,000 available to every county fair to host a Jr. Fair in 2020.

“With the money made available by the governor, we felt we would be able to conduct the Jr. Fair portion this year, and also conduct non-spectator harness racing,” Michaelis said. “All the Junior Fair shows have been livestreamed on Facebook, and the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association will have a live broadcast of the harness racing.”

Finding a processor for the Junior Fair Market Livestock projects is also a growing challenge each year. “The Extension Office, and Junior Fair board worked with the Senior Fair board throughout the summer to come up with a plan how to make something work for each species to show, and the Junior Fair Sale Committee and Buyers Club have worked to come up with a modified sale,” Michaelis said. “One of the hurdles was finding a support buyer for the animals. Once that was done, the rest seemed to fall into place.”

This year, the Junior Fair only ran five days instead of seven. Large animals and small animals used separate areas to prepare and show. All exhibitors moved in the day of their respective show, and left that evening. The only animals kept on the grounds beyond show day were the grand and reserve champions from each species. Day one was poultry and beef cattle, day two was rabbits and dairy animals, day three was horses and the dog show, day four was horses along with goats and sheep, and day five wrapped up with the swine show.

During the past week, county health department officials have made regular visits to the fair, and have submitted daily reports to the state.

“I met with the officials the after the first day, and they were for the most part very pleased with everyone complying with the rules,” Michaelis said. “Working together with them every step of the way, and staying in constant communication makes everyone’s job easier. It also helps that we all have the same goal from the beginning.”

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