COLUMBUS — The midway was quiet and the usual crowds were missing at this year’s Ohio State Fair, but you wouldn’t know it by the enthusiasm at junior fair exhibitions and the sale of champions, Aug. 8.
The Ohio Expositions Commission voted in April to curtail the 2021 fair because of ongoing uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic, so the fair was closed to the public. Activities were limited to agricultural and educational competitions.
Despite restrictions, junior fair participation equaled pre-pandemic levels, and the sale results set records.
Last go around
Exhibitors like Tim Gunkelman were glad to be able to return to the fair this year after the 2020 fair was canceled entirely. Gunkelman, from Wayne County, has been showing dairy cattle since he was 9, and this year was his last chance to show as a state junior fair exhibitor.
He participated in the sale of champions for the first time this year as a dairy supreme showman. Gunkelman and other top dairy exhibitors jointly sold a 5-pound block of Swiss cheese for a record-breaking $33,000.
That wasn’t the only record broken during the sale. The grand champion market turkey, reserve champion meat chickens, reserve champion barrow and reserve champion market beef also brought record prices.
Sale bidders, Mark and Megan Kvamme, said they came to the sale to recognize the hard work exhibitors put in.
The Kvammes, who live in Muskingum County, are venture capitalists who fund early-stage entrepreneurs. They bought the grand champion steer, grand champion market barrow, grand champion market lamb and reserve champion market chickens.
“We love what 4-H and FFA does,” Mark said. “It really teaches kids to be entrepreneurs.”
Megan said she loves seeing the joy in the exhibitor’s faces at the sale.
“We get so excited to support the kids in these events.”
In all, the 2021 sale generated a record-high total of $394,500. The amount each winning exhibitor receives is capped and the sale income above the caps goes toward the youth reserve program.
This year, $306,000 will go toward that program to provide funding for scholarships and other junior fair programs such as skillathons, livestock breeding awards, outstanding exhibitor awards and carcass contests.
Overall, participation in junior fair competitions was comparable to participation before the pandemic, according to Alicia Shoults, assistant general manager for the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair.
Although many fair activities were canceled this year, the fair was able to celebrate the fair’s youth participants and its roots in agriculture, she said. “It’s nice we were able to laser focus on the junior fair and livestock.”
Fair staff and volunteers worked to expand and enhance those junior fair activities. New this year, they organized two grand drives, one for market animal exhibitors and one for those showing breeding animals. Complete with tunnel entrances, smoke and pyrotechnics, the grand drives offered exhibitors some extra recognition for all their hard work, Shoults explained.
Organizers have been collecting feedback from exhibitors to apply what was learned in this difficult year to next year’s fair, Shoults said. “We’re fully anticipating a full fair in 2022.”
For exhibitors, the fair had a different feel without the usual crowds.
Tim Gunkelman missed showing off his animals to fairgoers. “Usually, there are people walking through the barns asking questions, and you can teach them about the industry.”
On the other hand, he added, the lack of crowds made it easier for exhibitors to get in and out of the fair.
Like Gunkelman, Riley Wendt, of Dublin, Ohio, showed at the state fair for the last time this year.
“It was great to be able to have a fair my last year,” she said. She was recognized during the sale of champions as one of the outstanding swine exhibitors.
She said she’s hoping to see the grand drives continued. The excitement of the smoke, lights and fireworks is something that will motivate exhibitors.
Jen and Matt Ortman have been bringing their sons to the state fair to show poultry for several years. This year, their son, Zane, showed the 2021 grand champion meat chickens. At previous fairs their son, Zac, showed reserve champion chickens and a champion turkey.
The family didn’t mind the quieter pace of this year’s fair, Jen said. “We actually really enjoyed it. Of course, we realize the crowds fund the fair, too.”
Chris Kinney, of Logan County, also enjoyed the pared-down fair. Her daughters, Allison, Alexandra, and Alivia, were all recognized as outstanding market poultry exhibitors this year. Since there were no vendors in the adjacent barns, poultry exhibitors had room to spread out and set up their own amusements.
Instead of heading out to the midway or rides, families were hanging around the barns playing cornhole and ping pong, Kinney said. “It was definitely different, but it was more relaxed.”
The shows themselves were not much different than usual, Kinney added. And, after all, that’s why she and her husband, Sam, bring their daughters to the fair.
“We’re here to show. Whether there are rides or not, as long as they can show, we’re happy.”
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!