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More Than 50 Wisconsin Fairs Have Been Canceled This Summer, But The Brown County Fair Is Underway

Iowa, Marinette And Shawano Counties Are Also Scheduled To Hold Upcoming Fairs

Two people in masks walk in a crowded area of the fair near food vendors
People walk near food vendors Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, at the Brown County Fair. Angela Major/WPR

Anna, a goat owned by 17-year-old Kate Greif, was born in March, just as the coronavirus pandemic was making itself felt in Wisconsin.

Greif wasn’t sure she’d get a chance to show off Anna to the public at a fair this summer, she said. Still, Greif trained Anna, since her family would be keeping the goat on their Manitowoc County farm. She played with Anna to encourage her to become friendly toward humans, eventually waking up to feed and walk her.

Kate Greif, 17, and her goat Anna were big winners at the Brown County Fair on Aug. 21, 2020. Megan Hart/WPR

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That work paid off Friday when Greif was awarded a Reserve Champion Rosette at the Brown County Fair, one of about a dozen county fairs open to the public this summer.

The fair is an outlier: More than 50 others across the state have been canceled over COVID-19 concerns, according to the Wisconsin Association of Fairs.

Fair president Steve Corrigan said it took a lot of work from local officials, volunteers and fair board members to make this year’s event a reality. At their core, county fairs are youth programs, he said. This year’s Brown County Fair features exhibits including livestock, photography and shooting sports.

“These kids work very hard. Their parents invest a lot of money and time, and some of the kids this year are going to graduate out of 4-H and FFA, and they’re going to lose that opportunity for life,” he said.

So far, this year’s livestock competitions have been competitive, with children coming from counties across the region that have canceled their own fairs, Corrigan said.

The Brown County Fair runs through Sunday. Modified versions of the Iowa, Marinette and Shawano county fairs are still scheduled to take place this summer as well.

“The mental health aspect, the ability to get out and socialize, is so important,” Corrigan said, suggesting parents use the fair as an opportunity to teach their children about social distancing and proper hygiene before some go back to school.

There are signs across the grounds encouraging visitors to spread out. The midway has fewer games this year, allowing for more space between food vendors and rides. Hand sanitizer is provided as people get on and off the rides, Corrigan said.

A child in a mask leans close to his cow as he shows the animal at the fair
Nine-year-old Ian Brick with Happy Valley 4-H wears a mask as he shows an animal Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, at the Brown County Fair. Angela Major/WPR

“We ask everyone please be responsible for you and your family, but most of all, be respectful of other people,” he said.

So far, attendance has been on par with last year, Corrigan said. Organizers expect about 40,000 people to attend this year’s Brown County Fair, but there typically aren’t more than 2,500 visitors at a time. On Friday afternoon, there was plenty of space for social distancing.

It’s been a difficult summer, several of the fair’s food vendors said. One seller, who travels to fairs across the country, said about 80 percent of her normal stops were canceled this year. Business has picked up, but it’ll be a long time until things are back to normal, she said.

The Wisconsin State Fair was canceled this year, but organizers put together a drive-thru for people to pick up fair food like brownies, pickles and lemonade. Nearly 60,000 vehicles visited the fairgrounds, and more than 200,000 cream puffs were sold, according to Wisconsin State Fair Park officials.

A man riding a horse holds a rope as he rides on a dirt arena
A man rides a horse past spectators Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, at the Brown County Fair. Angela Major/WPR
signs for Maple Sweet Dairy can be seen behind a cashier in a mask
A customer makes a purchase at Maple Sweet Dairy on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, at the Brown County Fair. Angela Major/WPR

For some other vendors, like the company that rents the Brown County Fair its bleachers, this is one of their first events of the year, Corrigan said.

This summer is the first time Theresa Baroun has been a Brown County Fair vendor. Her family owns two companies, Maple Sweet Dairy and Maple Buzz, that make products from maple and honey in De Pere.

Usually their products are sold at farmers markets in De Pere and Green Bay. They also hold an event every March during maple syrup season that usually attracts about 1,000 people, but it was canceled this year due to the pandemic. They’re still planning to host a honey-focused event this fall.

Baroun said they’re looking for a little boost during this unusual summer, selling maple bourbon iced coffee, maple cotton candy, maple root beer floats and other products at the fair.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s nice to see people out and the fair is doing a great job of people socially distancing.”