As a proud former 10-year 4-H'er I can say that I love county fairs. If you see me running around exhausted and frazzled in two weeks, just remember that. I really do love county fairs.
But in my time here in Greencastle I've noticed something curious about Putnam County Fair. The fair is scheduled to be nine days long. Read the cover of the Putnam County Fair Book and you will see that it's "July 18-26, 2014."
Nine action-packed days of family fun. But open the fair book and you'll get another message. Look at the section label "Pre-Fair Activities" and you'll see dates like Sunday, July 6; Saturday, July 12; Sunday, July 13; and Monday, July 14.
When I set out to write this blog, I was planning to be cheeky and ironic about the situation.
What's up with the fair being so long? Well, sit back and enjoy my smart aleck take on it...
Here's one problem with being a smart aleck -- if you take the time out to find the actual reasons for something, it's harder to make sniping comments from the sideline.
After a brief conversation with Fair Board Vice PresidentRay Poynter Jr. on Thursday, I think I get it a little more.
So if you, like me, have wondered why it is that the fair can't seem to contain itself to its pre-set parameters, here's the answer: The Putnam County Fair has outgrown the time and space allotted for it.
If you examine those pre-fair activities, you almost exclusively find things that either 1) probably shouldn't be done among the crowds of fair week or 2) need the precious space that the Fairgrounds Community Building is best set up to provide.
Let's address that first class of events. This weekend's events include the 4-H ag tractor, lawn and garden ZTR driving competition (8 a.m. Saturday), 4H firearms shooting competition (8:30 a.m. Saturday, Cloverdale Conservation Club); and the 4-H archery shooting competition (5 p.m. Saturday, outside arena).
These are events that really shouldn't be going on during the fair. In the case of the firearms competition, we avoid the Fairgrounds altogether. It's best to be at the Conservation Club, a place suited for such an event.
As for the tractor event, is there room during fair week for a tractor driving contest? Not unless you take away a big part of the parking and then force people to hike two miles along the Big Walnut from their parking spaces to the Fairgrounds.
In the case of archery, it used to be during the fair, but I can see where we don't really need stray arrows flying around in a crowded venue.
As for the Community Building events, there is no way to have them during fair week with the building full of projects. Instead, we have several early events this weekend and beyond including the Queen Contest (7 p.m. Saturday), the 4-H dog obedience show (noon Sunday), the 4-H cat show (9:30 a.m. Monday) and the 4-H Fashion Revue (7 p.m. Monday).
I think we all get that the Queen Contest and Fashion Revue require a unique setup in the community building that simply can't be provided once it's stuffed with projects.
It might seem nice if they were a little closer to the actual fair dates, but I just don't see how that's feasible. Projects due dates begin on Tuesday, and they have to be kept somewhere.
The dog and cat shows seem like they could be held in the inside arena instead of the community building, but I understand that also doesn't work very well. It seems that the pets (particularly the dogs) pick up the scents of the livestock and then stop behaving.
It's hard to get Rover to sit when he can't get the smell of a goat's butt out of his mind.
I'm not sure why it wouldn't be possible to have these things perhaps on Friday or Saturday when no livestock should yet have been in the arena. But, again, I will defer to those in the know.
There is also the Fair kick-off and ice cream social that took place last Sunday. Before anyone complains about the early date of that event, keep in mind that each year it raises between $1,000 and $2,000 for the Putnam County Fairgrounds Endowment (and $15,000 the year they raffled off the John Deere Gator).
Through this and other events, more than $100,000 has been raised for the endowment. That's nothing to complain about for anyone who is interested in the long-term interests of the Putnam County Fair.
But even with all these reasons listed, it still leaves us with a conundrum: What do we do when a weeklong fair can't be contained to a week?
In my view, there are two options, neither of which is easy.
The first is a longer fair. (I can hear the groans of my co-workers now.)
If nine days isn't enough, why not make it 10 or 11? They don't have to be days full of events, but get in things like the dog and cat show on the Wednesday or Thursday before the parade, before the livestock even arrive.
Additionally, with the understanding that traffic is lighter, go ahead and use part of the parking area for the tractor competition on one of these days.
As for shooting sports? Let's go ahead and keep those away from the crowds. The goal is to teach these kids to operate their firearms and bows safely and responsibly.
The second solution is harder, in that it requires space and money. But do we need to start considering an additional building at the fairgrounds?
Please understand that I'm just throwing out ideas. I don't know where the building would be placed and I don't know exactly what form it would take. I sure as heck don't know how we would afford it.
But an additional space, uncrowded by projects and unsullied by animal feces (as much as the ex-hog producer in me is a defender of manure as part of the fair experience), would be helpful as a place for the Queen Contest, the 4-H Fashion Revue, the Putnam County Star finals and other events that require more of a stage setup.
In the end, if you're a big supporter of the Putnam County Fair, these are good problems to have. Your fair is so active, so vibrant, it needs more time or space.
It may need both.
I'm sorry I don't have the solutions, but I think it's a conversation worth having.