Thomas Ruth, has watched his six siblings show at the Dane County Fair his entire life.
At age 11, this year would have been his first year showing his steer project — until it wasn’t.
The Dane County Fair, originally scheduled for July 16-19, was canceled due to the novel coronavirus, according to a May 13 news release from the Dane County Fair Association, Inc. Held each year at the Alliant Energy Center grounds, the area has since been utilized as a COVID-19 testing site for the county.
In 2019, there were more than 7,150 youth exhibits from a little over 700 exhibitors in categories such as photography, Animal Sciences, clothing and Foods and Nutrition.
Dane County isn’t the only county in the state to have canceled its fair for the summer. Fairs in Sauk and Brown counties have also been called off for this year.
There are 38 different 4-H groups from around the county and roughly 40,000 people attend each year, Danielle Ziegler, Dane County Fair general manager, told the Observer in an email.
Ron Russell, who is a Dane County Fair board member and has had six children involved in the Brooklyn Might Mites, said there were a number of factors that played into the cancellation.
“The fair board did not have much of an option – it is the way this year is going,” Russell told the Observer. “One of the things that obviously plays a role is that the fair is located in Madison which is more densely populated.”
Russell said there was a concern that attendance would be low if the fair was not canceled. He noted that a couple years ago, the fair was reduced by a day to save money.
His son Girish, 19, had a Champion Steer at State Fair last year and had been working with his animals for his last year of showing before he aged out.
The fair board is hoping to allow students whose last year of showing would be 2020, to participate in the 2021 fair, although this has not been confirmed yet.
“It is disappointing and what is not known is what is going to happen to other fairs around the state,” Russell said.
Thomas and his family are a part of the Brooklyn Mighty Mites 4-H club, which has an enrollment of 55 students from Brooklyn and Oregon. Thomas’ mother, Lucy, who is the Food Leader of the club, said her family has been showing at the Dane County Fair for 15 years.
Michelle Sarbacker, organizational leader of the Mudsliders, said the fair is part of the students identities. When people ask her 19 year old daughter, Montana, about herself — Montana tells them that her family owns a farm, and she shows dairy cows at the fair, Sarbacker said.
“In addition to being stuck at home and teaching themselves school during this quarantine, now they have another blow,” Michelle Sarbacker said.
Alicia Vaughn has two children who participate in the Brooklyn Might Mites: her fifth grade son Joseph (Joey) Schuch, and daughter Jayla Schuch, who is a Cloverbud. She said her children are still continuing with their projects even though the fair is not going on.
Vaughn said her children will miss their friends from the fair, but Joey is still trying to be positive.
“I probably get some more time to work with (the animals),” Joey said.
In addition to the bonds with other 4-H groups, Lucy said the comradery that comes along with the Potato, Breakfast and Ice Cream Stands will be sorely missed.
Each year, 4-H groups sign up for shifts at the various stands. All the profits from the stands is pooled into scholarships for seniors going to college. A total of 12 $1,000 scholarships go to different members in Dane County.
“It is our little niche that brings all us together — all the kids across all the clubs,” Lucy said.