The Revival and Growth of the County Fair
When I say the words “county fair,” what comes to mind? For me there is nostalgia that rolls in as I think of my own Menominee County Fair at Shakey Lakes Campground in Stephenson, Michigan. There, I competed in animal showmanship for multiple species, entered crafts and photos, rode my bike like a hooligan, and made endless campfire delicacies like smores and pudgie pies.
Sheep Showmanship was my real focus, the thing I cared about the most. I memorized names for the different cuts of meat and learned how to locate them on the animal; I made sure I was well versed on the amount of protein in my feed and what components made up my specific mix; I lead myself and my lamb in a daily exercise activity to encourage the right ratio of muscle to fat; and my cheesy smile, something I prided myself on at age 9, I now realize was often out of control and probably scared the judge more than showcase how ‘calm’ I was. I today realize how truly beneficial that experience was, and feel honored to have had that opportunity.
A few years ago I was been able to attend the fair again for the first time since high school. I was saddened to see the sheep show, at one time a huge event of the fair, was much smaller in size. When I was growing up it felt like everyone went out to the fair for one reason or another. Some of my friends showed animals with me, others had families who came to enjoy the parks beach and playground, some came just for the tractor pull, and it often felt like the whole town showed up for the Polka Band.
Last year my mom, Barbara Palzewicz, asked me to be the master of ceremonies for her Ladies Day Program on the Saturday morning of the fair. You don’t say no to my mom, so I agreed. She told me that this year there was a fair board “who really wanted to improve the fair” and were doing some cool things to bring it back to life. I admit, I was skeptical, but those feelings changed when every single chair at her ladies day event was full and we hadn’t even begun. Onlookers stood around the perimeter of the tent, and there was a handful of men in the crowd who couldn’t keep away from the excitement of the cooking competition my mom had planned.
That wasn’t the only change. A greased pig contest, live musical entertainment, and a competitive cornhole tournament was added, each bringing its own array of contestants and audience members. I was impressed, and I also found out that the Menominee County Fair, Fair Manager position had been filled by someone who had once joined me in that very same show ring the day of the sheep show. Eric Tickler, of Tickler Farm & Forest Products, with the help of a supportive board with members from multiple sectors of the community, have put together a fair that I feel may surpass those old Dairy Days I remember as a kid.
You can find the full lineup of events in there premium book or like their Facebook Page to get the most up-to-date information. Some of the highlights include various livestock shows ranging from chicken and rabbits, to dairy, horses, beef, and sheep. On Friday morning there will be an opening ceremonies with a dove release that all veterans are invited to attend (lunch provided). You’ll have multiple food vendors to choose from, and for the kids, a carnival, large beach and playground. Other fun events include a Beer & Wine Tasting Event on Friday evening, truck pulls on Saturday, and a Firefighter Local Food Grill-Off on Sunday.
At this point there’s not much else to tell you besides entry to the fair is only $5 and tickets can be purchased at the gate as well as at the MSU Extension Office in Stephenson, Michigan. The dates are July 19th – 22nd and with a daily packed weekend lineup it’s a great full weekend excursion or fun family day trip.
I wish I knew more about the rest of the county fairs of Michigan. After being out of the loop for so long it’s hard to know – but I can assume that as local food and agriculture become a more prevalent theme in our states economy that the County Fair will continue to make a comeback statewide. The County Fair was the original gathering of agriculture – I like to imagine me asking the fair 100 years ago to be a Certified Local Food Event – I have a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t have much trouble. So if you can’t make our newly improved Menominee County Fair here in the UP, I encourage you to do the next best thing and visit the county fair closest to you!
Alex Palzewicz is the Upper Peninsula Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference and a Menominee County native. She is sad to admit that after years of going for gold in sheep showmanship, she never brought home a Grand Champion Trophy – but the priceless photos more than make up for that. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org