CADIZ, Ohio — A lot changed between when the Harrison County Fair book went to the printer, and when the fair’s 2020 shows began June 24.
The fair is normally a week long and was scheduled for June 22-27. There are usually demolition derbies, square dances and tractor pulls.
But, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fair organizers decided in early May to cut the 2020 fair back to only the junior fair market projects.
The shows took place over two days, June 24-25, with a sale June 26. There were no showmanship or breeding classes. 4-H’ers brought their animals to the grounds June 23, the day before the shows started.
“It’s different,” said Lynette Dauch, fair board president. “It’s not what we anticipated.”
At the fairgrounds, signs reminding fair-goers to social distance and indicating one-way traffic patterns in barns were scattered around the fairgrounds. Before and during shows, announcers reminded fair-goers to take precautions and wash their hands regularly.
Reactions to the social distancing guidelines varied. Fair-goers mostly followed the one-way signs in barns, except when 4-H’ers rushed back to the barns to gather their animals between shows and sales.
At the sale, a few buyers wore masks. Many did not. Some were careful to stay six feet away from others in the bleachers at the shows and sale. Others were less cautious, sitting close to friends or family.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to keep people safe,” Dauch said. “They love to all sit and visit, and we know that … it’s just different this year.”
But despite the differences, some things looked the same.
At the fair’s first day of showing June 24, 4-H’ers lined up with their hogs, poultry and steer outside and inside the show rings. Between shows, they prepared goats and sheep for the next day of shows at the wash stalls. Organizers and volunteers raced through shows to get them all done during the shortened fair, Dauch said.
“Everyone still has just been working as hard as normal,” said Katherine Eberhart, the 2020 Harrison County Fair Queen.
At 19, Eberhart, of Shamrock 4-H Club, is in her final year of 4-H.
“It’s sad,” she said about the changes to the fair this year. “We’re all still trying to keep happy faces about it.”
Despite the changes, Eberhart still enjoyed her final fair season. Her favorite part, she said, was seeing what she and her friends accomplished. She placed reserve champion with her market ducks. One of her close friends placed grand champion.
“I just love seeing that,” Eberhart said.
At the sale June 26, to move the auction along more quickly, only the grand and reserve champion animals entered the ring. The rest of the 4-H’ers stood behind a podium while buyers bidded on their market projects.
Before the sale began, auctioneer Billy Birney noted that some buyers were calling in to bid on animals instead of attending in person. He noted that the fair and sale would not have been possible without the community support and the volunteer efforts.
“We need 4-H more than ever,” Birney added.
Alexia Dennis, 14, of Silver Spruce 4-H club, donated her market chicken proceeds to The Wendy’s Walk, a cause that supports local women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
The group usually has a walk for a fundraiser each year, but could not have one in 2020 due to the pandemic. So, Dennis decided to donate her market chickens.
“They have helped my grandma in the past,” Dennis said. “I wanted to help.”
Dennis said her grandmother has been cancer-free for five years. The market chickens sold for $675 to Dr. Michael Dundr, of Cambridge, Ohio.
While a few 4-H’ers decided not to show this year, Dauch said many stuck with the fair, especially since it gave them an opportunity to make sure that their animals got processed.
“We definitely had some pulled,” she said. “We understand that. If they can get it processed and their family can use it … we have no expectations.”
For 4-H’ers that showed and sold at the fair this year, the board lined up processors for the livestock. Getting livestock processed has been challenging for many farmers during the pandemic.
“That was the only way to do this,” Dauch said. Especially since “the whole point was to get these animals to the sale so we could get them processed.”
The board is considering a date in September to run a short weekend fair for breeding animals.
Dauch said state department of agriculture, Ohio Fair Managers’ Association and the governor’s office, “all kept us on our toes” throughout the spring.
The state didn’t come out with any official guidelines for county fairs until May 28. Then, less than two weeks later, the state released new, looser guidelines June 9. The Harrison County Fair stuck with its modified fair plans from early May.
“We did what we felt was the best thing for June,” Dauch said. “I’m very proud of our board for moving ahead and making this decision … we’ll make it happen, and we’ll get through it for another year.”
The board brought in a few concessions stands for the fair. It also planned a motocross event for June 26 in the evening, the only fair event targeted for the community this year.
Several sponsors made the junior fair possible. Some sponsors who donated before the changes were made still allowed the fair to use their funds. Even the week before, Dauch was still getting calls from more sponsors.
“I think people finally realized we’re actually going to do it,” she said the week before the fair. “Everybody’s a little apprehensive about it ‘til they knew for sure, but it’s a go. Ready or not, here we go.”
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