County, State Fairs Make a Comeback

Return of Fairs Good News for Communities, 4-H Families

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
Connect with Russ:
Washington County, Nebraska, 4-H youth took a group photo before the large animal auction at the end of their 2021 county fair on Aug. 4. (DTN photo by Russ Quinn)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Currently, on Omaha television, the Iowa State Fair is running advertisements stating last year was not "fair," but the Iowa State Fair is back on in 2021. It is a clever play on words, but it is very accurate -- last year many county and state fairs were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And, to many 4-H children, volunteers and parents, this situation was not "fair." A summer tradition of preparing different projects for the various levels of fairs was canceled.

2020 FAIRS

Some counties and states had fairs while many others did not. My home county of Washington County, Nebraska, did have a county fair last year in Arlington with mainly 4-H events, but a couple of the neighboring counties decided to cancel their fairs completely.

This meant that, for many 4-H households, there were no projects to plan for months and then rapidly finish in the last week before the fair. A summer's worth of working with livestock in the heat (as well as MANY sibling/parent arguments) did not occur.

In our household, 4-H has been a big part of our summers for the last eight years now. All three of our kids (Kyle is 16 years old, Burke is 12 and Ella is 10) have shown various livestock during the last nearly decade.

While we did have a fair, there was great uncertainty if it was going to happen in the months before. We had the kids do some projects, but not as many as usual as we didn't know if we would even have a county fair in the spring as we started to plan.

The county had 4-H livestock shows and static exhibits, but the animals could only come the day of their show, and they had to go home right after the show. The attendance at the shows was much smaller than usual, as many folks, especially older people, decided to stay home to protect themselves from catching the virus.

The high point for many 4-H kids is to proudly display their livestock for the entire community to see, and this did not happen last year. For me, the best part of spending so much time at the fair with the kids' projects is seeing people you really don't see much throughout the course of the year and having the time to carry on a conversation with them.

A worldwide pandemic from the other side of the globe took away many small-town events like county fairs in 2020.


However, COVID-19 vaccines have allowed county and state fairs to return in 2021, although the recent Delta variant has shown the world is still dealing with the virus.

I was curious if people would return to such events after a world-changing event like a pandemic. Well, at least for six days in late July and early August at a county fair in eastern Nebraska, the answer is a resounding "Yes."

The crowds were back and then some. The Washington County Fair has many events, including concerts, rodeos, tractor pulls, a parade and a demolition derby, and every event this year appeared to have large crowds. Someone even told me the rodeo had the highest attendance of all time.

I'm not an expert on human behavior, but this massive return of people to our county fair seems to tell us people really missed an event that had occurred every year for more than 100 years in the county. People longed for the ability to get together as a community and celebrate ALL the events a county fair has to offer.

And this return to normal is good news to 4-H families. This year, we were able to bring our livestock to the fairgrounds and keep them housed there for the entire run of the fair.

As my daughter left the show area with her market lamb after her turn showing and we were walking back to the sheep barn, two young families with two little girls apiece were at the entrance of the building.

We stopped and let the girls touch the ewe lamb, and judging by the huge smiles on their faces, this was obviously something they had never done before. The parents thanked us multiple times for letting them touch the lamb.

This is what county fairs should be about -- letting people with limited agriculture knowledge learn something positive about the ag industry. That didn't happen last year.

Yes, 2020 was certainly not "fair" to 4-H kids, but hopefully, 2021 is the beginning of many years of interesting projects to be displayed at various fairs around the country.

I know we will be there, as well, for the next decade.

Russ Quinn can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

Russ Quinn