Continue the tradition at Wisconsin fairs this summer
Wisconsin is home to county fairs, district fairs, and, of course, a traditional state fair that attracts visitors from far beyond the state's borders. From the Bayfield County Fair in Iron River to the Kenosha County Fair in Wilmot and just about everywhere in between, many communities in our state have a fair to call their own. In addition to our county, district, and state fairs, countless festivals are held across the state each year.
These events are a long and proud tradition in Wisconsin. The Waukesha County Fair, the oldest county fair in the state, began in 1842. The first Wisconsin State Fair was held several years later in 1851 along the banks of the Rock River in Janesville. In the 170 years since then, the State Fair has evolved over time to include farm machinery displays in the late 1800s, aviation demonstrations in the early 1900s, entertainment acts in the 1950s, new and interesting food trends in recent years, and much more.
Our county fairs now include many of these same features, along with local traditions that are unique to each community. Over time, as our county, district, and state fairs and festivals have changed, one thing has stayed the same: these events remain a signature part of summer for many Wisconsinites. For many people, summer is just not the same without a visit to the fair.
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This rings especially true for our state’s $104.8 billion agricultural industry. County fairs provide a valuable opportunity for the next generation of aspiring farmers and agriculture professionals to demonstrate and improve their skills. Throughout the year, students across the state spend a great deal of time and energy preparing to show their livestock at the fair. For many of these competitors, fairs are not only a chance to show off their skills. They’re also a place to celebrate accomplishments, learn more about the opportunities available to them in Wisconsin agriculture, and build relationships with others in the industry.
There is no denying the impact the pandemic has had on Wisconsin’s fairs and festivals. Many organizers had to cancel their local events in 2020 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health. County fair aids administered by the state are reimbursement-based, so fairs that were not held last year did not receive the state support they might expect in other years. On top of these financial challenges, many of us across the state also felt the emotional impact of keeping our distance during a time when we would normally be gathering together with family, friends, and neighbors at our favorite local fairs and festivals.
This year, however, Wisconsin continues to make progress in COVID-19 vaccination. At the time of writing this, nearly half of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine and about 40 percent of Wisconsinites have completed their vaccine series. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), and local health departments across the state continue to update their recommendations on things like mask wearing.
We all still need to do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19, and we will continue to see the effects of the pandemic in many areas of our lives. But Wisconsin is on the right track toward bouncing back. As more people get vaccinated, our communities become better protected, and we look forward to gathering safely at the signature events we all love this summer.
Regardless of where you live or whether you’re familiar with agriculture, there is a place for you at your local fair or festival. These celebrations give us all a chance to connect firsthand with Wisconsin’s strong agricultural roots while enjoying local foods and making connections with local businesses, artists, and musicians.
You can find a COVID-19 vaccine appointment in your area at vaccines.gov. Then, make sure to visit the Wisconsin Association of Fairs at wifairs.com to plan your summer fair and festival outings. Have a safe, enjoyable summer, and thank you for supporting Wisconsin’s agriculture industry and local communities!
Randy Romanski is the secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection