FAIRFIELD — The Greater Jefferson County Fair is underway.
Those who drive by the Jefferson County Fairgrounds will notice that the crowd is sparse this year, which is by design. The fair has been closed to the public throughout the week, open only to the family members of the 4-H and FFA exhibitors.
Inside the gate, there are mixed emotions about the fair. On one hand, the kids and parents are disappointed the fair is not the grand spectacle it normally is. The carnival rides, grandstand entertainment and nearly all food booths are gone. At the same time, the 4-H kids are happy that they at least have a fair to attend.
Kylie Wise and Elizabeth Simmons are a couple of 4-Hers who show multiple animals at the fair including horses, dogs, rabbits and chickens. Earlier this year, when they learned there was a chance the fair might be canceled, they were both pretty upset.
“I was sad,” Wise said. Simmons said that the thought of a summer with no fair made her “mad.”
The two said that the fair is much quieter this year without the typical commotion of fairgoers and barns full of animals. The Greater Jefferson County Fair has asked that animal exhibitors bring their animals to the fair the night before the show and then leave the same day as the show. That’s far different from past years when families brought all their animals at once and they all stayed the whole week in the barns.
Both girls participated in the rabbit show, held Wednesday afternoon. The rabbit barn, now known as Denny’s barn after Denny Thomes, is normally full of rabbits and poultry. This year, it’s mostly barren, with a few rabbits in cages around the outside.
Fair board member Kolby Freeman noted that participation is down this year. She remarked that the horse show, held on Tuesday, had five fewer kids than it normally does. The reasons that some kids are not showing this year vary. Some are staying home because there is no state fair in August. Others are concerned about the coronavirus. Wise and Simmons said they never considered staying home from the fair. It’s too much a part of their lives for them to miss it.
Emily Pilcher attended the dog obedience show held Wednesday morning. She was there to watch her stepson Landen perform with his dog Bella. She remarked that the coronavirus was not a major concern for her, at least not at the fair, because the activities are outside where it’s easier to maintain social distancing. Pilcher said her family does not normally attend the state fair, but remarked that it was a bummer that the county fair participants don’t have that to look forward to this year.
Freeman said the decision about whether to hold a fair and what kind of fair to hold was especially tough for the Jefferson County Fair Board because it has one of the earliest fairs in the state. Wapello County has some events that are earlier, but they’re mostly grandstand entertainment, not 4-H exhibits.
Freeman said there was a wide variety of opinion among fair board members about what to do. Some wanted to hold a normal fair in every respect. Others were more cautious. In some sense, the decision was taken out of their hands due to the uncertainty surrounding both the spread of the virus and whether the state government would even allow fairs. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds slowly allowed businesses such as restaurants and gatherings such as farmers markets to open to the public beginning in May. Each week saw a slight relaxation of the rules from the week before.
The fair board needed to decide in early May what kind of fair it was going to have. But with so much uncertainty at the time, the board had trouble securing sponsorships and vendors, so that made the members look at having a scaled-back version of the fair. Freeman said the board was unanimous in its belief that it should hold a fair of some kind, even if it was just for the exhibitors. After conferring with Iowa State University Extension, the decision was made to hold an exhibitor-only fair closed to the public.
“We didn’t want to cancel this because of what it means to the kids,” Freeman said. “The fair is about kids showing and learning about all sorts of programs.”