Monday, August 27, 2012

State and county fairs succeed in hard times by expanding repertoire of events

In trying times, think different. That's what people in the state and county fair business have been doing this summer, writes Kirsti Marohn of USA Today. They're doing that by adding unique events to attract new visitors and offering low-cost entertainment to families on a budget. It seems that more people are forgoing vacations and looking for things to do closer to home, says Marla Calico, director of education for the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, which has 1,100 members in the U.S., Canada and several other countries. "What we have seen is in difficult economic times, fairs actually thrive," Calico says. (Newborn calf photo from Indiana Dairy Council)

Fair organizers have continued to work, reports Marohn, to honor agricultural roots but added non-farm events such as rocket launches and three-on-three basketball tournaments in Indiana's Elkhart County, marketing manager Kristy Ambrosen says. "It's not necessarily that you have to be a farm kid to enjoy it," she says. There, the 4-H Fair, a nine-day event in July, attracted nearly 245,000 people — up 4 percent from 2011. There, visitors could also watch exciting farm happenings like calves being born or watch chefs from popular local restaurants demonstrate how to prepare dishes using garden produce. "We always have it in our mind that there are a large portion of fair guests that are coming in the gate that are not regularly exposed to agriculture," Ambrosen says. Other fairs around the country have tried salsa-making contests, wine gardens, strolling entertainers, even historic villages, where volunteers dress up in period costumes and cook traditional foods. (Read more)

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