The challenges of this year’s fair season have presented opportunities for some fairs to experiment, and to cast a wider net for junior fair support.
The Carroll County Fair, in Carrollton, Ohio, canceled in early June, right after the state released rules for fairs, like several other Ohio fairs. Unlike some others, however, the fair board chose to stick with their decision to cancel, even after looser guidelines came out from the state.
“We just felt we weren’t able to do all the guidelines from the state,” said Mike Lozier, of the Carroll County Fair Board. “It’d be almost impossible, I think, to have enforced it … a lot of it was for the health and safety of our community.”
But with the fair only six weeks away when the board canceled, fair board and sale committee members still wanted to help junior fair exhibitors sell their market projects. So, for the first time ever, they held a junior fair auction in a hybrid format, with online bidding, and an in-person auction July 24.
The online bidding allowed people from out of state to support the junior fair exhibitors, too, fair staff said. One person from Arizona bought four lots. Someone from Chicago also bought one.
“It’s very much a year where we had to innovate our way out of a problem, and I think this was a very big innovation,” said Wes Frew, junior fair secretary.
And, fair representatives said, the new format could be part of the fair in the future, as well.
“I really believe that that’s something we’re going to look into for next year,” Lozier said.
The fair launched online bidding a few days before the in-person auction, through a program called ShoWorks. Frew said the set up allowed buyers enter a maximum amount that they were willing to bid on an animal, and then the software would auto-bid up to that point if someone bid against it.
“It was nice for those without great internet connections,” Frew said. “You don’t want to miss out right at the last second.”
But the fair also had an in-person option, for those who didn’t have a solid enough internet connection to bid online or who weren’t comfortable with the technology.
The day of the in-person auction, bidding started at whatever had been bid online. Buyers participated through a Zoom call and in-person. 4-H’ers, on the other hand, stayed home and watched through a livestream. Lozier said having junior fair exhibitors watch from home and some buyers bidding online helped with social distancing at the sale.
Some community members were unhappy with the initial decision to cancel the fair, Lozier said.
“But as they thought through it and realized our objectives, they were on our side,” he added. “The community, the buyers, they supported the auction very well.”
Frew said there was a similar number of buyers this year as there are most years. Some buyers bought privately from 4-H’ers instead of through the sale.
“For those that were able to sell [their market project] and get it in to slaughter, we said go for it, do what’s best for you,” Frew said.
But while some sold on their own, many others went through the fair sale. The board worked with several local meat processors to reserve slots for fair animals to be slaughtered.
“That was a big selling point — if you bought something at the sale, it had a slaughter date,” Frew said.
In addition to the regular bids, buyers were able to support junior fair exhibitors through add-ons online. The add-ons increased the overall sale total by more than $15,000.
The Sunday after the sale, junior fair exhibitors brought their projects to the Carrollton Livestock Auction as a drop-off point. From there, the animals were sorted based on which processor they need to go to, and processors picked them up.
Frew and Lozier both said the fair may consider using a hybrid auction in the future, even after the pandemic is over.
“We did have a lot of positive feedback on the whole process,” Frew said. “I think a number of people would like to see this continue on into the future.”
For business owners, who may be faced with a decision to either close down early or get to the sale late, for people who may vacation during the fair and for those who were concerned about their health due to the pandemic this year, online bidding opened up more options, Frew said.
“It casts a lot wider net on who can support the kids,” Frew said. “I would encourage fairs to look into this hybrid auction format. I really think it’s the way that fairs need to be looking ahead into the future.”
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