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The county fair sure is a different place at the break of dawn!

I made it to my local fair a little before 7 a.m. yesterday for a gathering of the Wayne County Ag Leaders and it sure was empty and quiet compared the afternoon and evening crowds.

The ag leaders are a group ag-related people from the county who meet every month to talk about the latest local farm issues. I decided to attend this month’s meeting because it was being held during the fair and included a presentation by someone from the state treasurer’s office.

As it turned out, the state official was unable to attend, but I got a good briefer on something all fair attendees should understand: The fair is a year-round project.

That’s true for the exhibitors, the fair board, the concessionaires and just about everything having to do with the fair.

Verton Yoder, whose family operates the chicken barbecue, talked about all the work his staff does to prepare 10,000-plus halves for the fair. It’s an all-day thing, he said. They begin each day around 6 a.m. by cleaning out the old charcoal ash, getting some breakfast for the staff and starting the grills so they can serve chicken by 11 a.m.

They cook about 500 halves at a time, using roughly 5.5 tons of charcoal by the end of the week. It’s some of the best chicken I’ve ever ate — all locally produced by Gerber Poultry.

Lots of food

About 12,000 meals get serve each fair, Yoder said, and it takes about 150 roasters of green beans, 400 cans of applesauce, 10,000 dinner rolls and 1,200 gallons of drink.

And it’s prepared and served by volunteers who donate the money to various community events in the village of Shreve, Ohio, as well as the county fair.

Another guy who puts a lot of time into the fairs is Matt Gallapoo, whose family owns American Family Concessions. They operate popular food and entertainment booths in about 10 county fairs.

Gallapoo talked about the year-round work it takes to maintain the concession equipment, and the need to buy and prepare tons of potatoes for the fair. He estimated his family would use 4-5 tons just this week, and about three tons of sugar.

While everyone was busy preparing the fair food, the exhibitors were bringing in more hay and grain to keep their animals fed. I saw one girl pull a square bale of hay from the trunk of her car, and several other people were toting bags of feed to the barns.

Some of the exhibitors were huddled together in the barns with blankets and likely had just woke up. It’s not uncommon for them to sleep at the fair and sometimes in the barns themselves.

What happens before the fair

I remember several years ago hearing one of the auctioneers say something to the effect “champions are made when no one else is watching.” I’m pretty sure that quotation has been used many times before, but it sure is true of the young people who bring animals to the fair each year.

They spend just a few minutes in front of the judge, but often several months to a whole year getting ready. Most of that time is spent away from the crowds and shows, often away from anyone except maybe a few friends or parents.

I showed beef cattle at the same fair for 10 years and I can remember very well the long mornings and evenings getting my animal ready long before the show.

As my county’s fair comes to a close today, I’m sure it will only be a matter of weeks before the board begins to make plans for next year’s event. In fact, some of those plans are likely already made.

A good fair is truly a year-round event on everyone’s part.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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