Johnson County Fair staff hopes for uptick in fairgoers

As the Johnson County Fair approaches, organizers are preparing for the implementation of COVID-19 protocols.

Jake Olson, News Reporter

After a one-year pause, the Johnson County Fair will be open for business on Saturday until Wednesday, July 28. This year’s fair is similar to previous celebrations, besides the enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols.

The Johnson County Agricultural Association is a non-profit organization that has been managing the fair, the grounds, and buildings, and doing repairs since the 1940s.

“We are a non-profit organization with a lot of volunteers,” Michael Leick, manager of the Johnson County Agricultural Association Board said. “We try our best to manage the fair and the fairgrounds and make it the best possible.”

After COVID-19 canceled essentially every event except animal showing last year at the fair, new safety COVID-19 mitigation measures were implemented.

“The Johnson County Health Department discusses the COVID-19 situation in our county and state and tells us what we can do,” Leick said.

Even with people getting vaccinated and COVID-19 cases remaining low in Johnson County, there are still some safety guidelines people must follow.

“People that have not gotten the full vaccine are recommended to wear a mask,” Leick said. “We are holding as many exhibits as we can outdoors for better ventilation, people have been asked to populate every other booth for better spacing, and other events like the sunflower spitting contest have been modified.”

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In the last 14 days, Johnson County reported a 4.4 percent COVID-19 positive rate, according to the Johnson County Public Health website.

While vaccines are not required to either work for or participate in the fair, all staff members are already fully vaccinated, Leick said.

Even though the fair will be almost back to the way it was before, some activities, like the sunflower spitting contest, are put on hold for another year, he said. Face painting and bingo will be held outside instead of inside.

One of the most note-worthy parts of the event are the Head, Heart, Hands, and Health (4H) and Future Farmers of America exhibits and entries.

Residents from all over the county come to the events to show cattle and research-based experiments through 4H.

Last year, the only event the fair held included people showing off their animals to a limited audience. This year, the fair is looking forward to showing animals with full fans and showing exhibits from 4H.

“We approached with safety and for a desire to get back to as close as normal,” Creigh Rourke said, a county fair coordinator who has been put in charge of running 4H and Future Farmers of America events. “We have been working with the Johnson County Health Department and approaching the best possible situation with exhibitors, volunteers, and fairgoers.”

As in-person gatherings make a comeback, Leick said 2018 and 2019 showed the highest amount of participation and attendees on the Johnson County fairgrounds.

“Last year was only 4H and their family members. There was strong participation in animal events, but not the 2019 levels,” Leick said.

In 2019, the Iowa State Fair also saw its largest record-breaking crowds, but postponed the 2020 fair because of the pandemic.

“Actually, we have seen the opposite in 4H and FFA, which have been going up every year since 2016,” CEO and Manager of the Iowa State Fair Gary Slater said. “A huge increase over the last couple of years.”

Even with the fair being fully back this year, Leick said the Johnson County Agricultural Association is struggling with finding employees and volunteers because of the pandemic.

“We usually have 10 staff, and this year we have five,” Leick said.

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