Sunday, 15 July 2012

On Wisconsin: Lodi Agriculture Fair called a 'true county fair'

Between 120 and 180 people typically volunteer at the
Lodi Agriculture Fair. The only people paid at the fair are those
who work at the carnival, one of the biggest draws to the event.
This year, 750 people purchased all-you-can-ride wristbands
before the fair opened on Thursday.

LODI — My daughter Leah hit it on the head as we entered downtown Lodi.
The 11-year-old pried her eyes away from my iPhone, looked at the collection of historic buildings and dubbed the place "homey."
It was a dead-on assessment but not just for the city's central business district.
What is now called the Lodi Agriculture Fair has been a summer staple in this southern Columbia County community for 147 years and is the area's signature event.
Unlike most county fairs that charge admission and limit entries to those living in the county, the fair here is free and gets entries from six area counties and two other states.
The event serves as an annual reunion for many, including Shellie Roberds, who grew up in Lodi but lives near Savannah, Ga. She has two children, ages 9 and 10.
"I want them to experience what I did as a kid," Roberds said. "I love coming."
Roberds' mother, Rose Holerud, has worked at the fair for 40 years and at one time entered canned venison and green beans. Her husband, Merlin, who died in March, spent years flipping hamburgers and pulling battered cars from the annual demolition derby.
"It brings so many generations together," Holerud said.
The fair, which ends Sunday and typically draws about 10,000 people over four days, is simple, historic and uncluttered.
Absent are commercial vendors that dot other fairs. Instead, the vendors at Lodi's fair, one of only a few independent fairs in the state, consist of church groups, 4-H clubs and other civic organizations selling food and drinks.
Everyone who works at the fair, minus the carnival, is a volunteer.
There's almost 5,000 exhibits brought in, and some need to be fed and watered and kept in the shade.
Others consist of paintings, drawings, photographs, craft projects, quilts and other projects that fill two buildings, including the rink at the Lodi Curling Club.
"We are a true country fair," said Stormy Cooley, secretary of the fair board. "Everybody gives their own time. That's our biggest asset."
According to Paul Dalton, who in 2010 wrote a history of the fair for the Lodi Enterprise, the Lodi Union Agricultural Society was organized after 1863, when the Columbia County Agriculture Society, known today as the Columbia County Fair, held its annual exhibition in Lodi. The county fair is now in Portage and this year marks 161 years, along with fairs in Dane and Iowa counties. Waukesha County has the state's oldest fair, dating back to 1842.
The first Lodi Union Fair was held in October 1866 just west of the downtown on land that is now home to the Presbyterian church, its congregation formed in 1851. The fair moved to its current location in 1875, according to Dalton, and now covers 54 acres.
This is where they auction off homemade pies for hundreds of dollars each as part of a fundraiser and where 750 wristbands for the carnival were sold at $15 each before opening day.
This year's entertainment included rock and country music and concludes today with polka from Gary's Ridgeland Dutchmen. A tractor pull closes out the fair at 6 tonight.
But like most fairs, the animals and the youth are central to its success. The fair's information office serves as a miniature museum for the event, showing off pictures, ribbons, posters and other memorabilia. It includes a trophy for Grand Champion Dairy Showmanship. The 1969 honor went to Lodi-area native Tom Wopat, who would have been 17 years old at the time and 10 years away from his starring role on "The Dukes of Hazzard" television show.
Mathew Karls, 9, of the town of Springfield near Waunakee, showed a broad-breasted white turkey that hatched March 12. He named the bird Mila, after a character in the "Jigsaw Jones Mystery" series.
When I visited with the excited exhibitor last week, he was making sure his chirping entry had plenty of water and a soft bed of sawdust.
"She's the shortest, but she has the fullest breast," Mathew said. "I've got eight more at home."
Rachel Hellenbrand will be taking her 1,400-pound Holstein home today but will cart the 3-year-old beast off to the Dane County Fair later this week. If the rural Cross Plains teen had to pick just one fair, the decision would be easy.
"It's laid back here," said Hellenbrand, 15. "Dane County is a lot of concrete."
Barry Adams covers regional news for the State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at
Original Article here

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