It was a Warren County Fair like never before, supported like never before. And fair leaders say they might’ve learned a few things from it.
In light of COVID-19, the fair board had opted to postpone most events until next summer. Only 4-H and FFA shows went on as scheduled July 22 through July 26, without a public audience and with health precautions in place.
That felt “very weird,” acknowledged Jo Reynolds, fair director and secretary of the fair board.
“We, the superintendents and the board of directors, sit around in the office and think, ‘Gosh, at this time we should be doing this, normally. And at this time, we should be doing this, normally.’ There’s nothing normal about what’s happened this year,” she explained.
At the same time, Reynolds has seen several positives come from it.
“We kind of called it a reset,” she said. “It takes us back to the basics of what the fair started as, just around the livestock shows. It’s kind of a fun way of looking at things.”
The event goes all the way back to 1855 and in the past was only derailed by war. Even though this summer’s modified fair was like those of early days, it incorporated some very 21st-century technology.
“Putney Auction has stepped up to do a virtual auction and has gone to a lot of work to make this happen. The Advocate — to livestream those shows has been a bright spot,” Reynolds said, referring to the videos aired on this publication’s Facebook page.
Although it’s too soon for decisions regarding next year, it’s possible that some changes might stay.
“We even had some ‘ah-ha!’ moments, I would call them,” said Reynolds. “As we’ve had to change things, it’s been a good learning curve. Some of these things will probably become the norm.”
Fair leaders had hoped that the community would be respectful of their request not to file into the fairgrounds to watch the shows. For once, they were pleased by the lack of turnout.
“I think that worked out very well,” Reynolds said. “And I do know there were several people watching live, and I think they enjoyed watching from the comfort of their own home on some of those warm days.”
But the community did show up when it came to supporting the fair. A list of sponsors can be found on the fair’s Facebook page, and individual donations also helped to defray the cost of having the 4-H and FFA shows.
At the livestock auctions held on Thursday, July 23, and Monday, July 27, “everything has been sold,” Reynolds said — and for generous prices.
“Not only did those people donate, but now a lot of them are sitting back out there and helping the kids,” she said. “Because you can donate to the fair and make the structure of the fair run, but these people are doing both. It’s kind of overwhelming — a huge bright spot.”
Meanwhile, a plus for buyers was that Milo Locker Meats and Leighton Processed Meats guaranteed them an appointment for processing.
But then, some meat wasn’t bound for buyers’ freezers at all. It turns out that the fair and exhibitors weren’t the only recipients of their generosity.
For the first time, some of the bounty will be heading to the Helping Hand of Warren County in Indianola: Two beef and 36 chickens, the latter of which sold at the auction for the first time this year.
The Warren County Cattlemen teamed up with a program called Beef Up Iowa to make the beef donation happen. As for chickens, even Reynolds bought a pen of three for Helping Hand.
One auction item — well, make that two — weren’t animals. Pat Meade, who serves on the fair board, donated a pair of tables to benefit the organization. He built them from trees dropped by a tornado last fall and harness hames.
The first table was bought by Milo Locker meats for $1,450. The second sold for $1,350, bought by 13 people who each pitched in about $100. They gifted back the table, which will hit the auction block again in December to benefit the Association of Iowa Fairs.
All of the support was “incredible,” said Reynolds. Another highlight came from the very reason the fair moved forward with the 4-H and FFA shows: the kids.
Some of them offered a pretty heartwarming thank-you, she said, from a social distance.
“That was worth every minute of it.”