Van Buren fair

Eight-year-old Audrey Klett is shown Wednesday with her beef feeder calf, Midnight, just an hour before her family found out the Van Buren Youth Fair will be canceled this year. Audrey’s parents said she was looking forward to showing animals at the fair.

HARTFORD — Ever since she was a child, Katie Klett looked forward to spending time at the Van Buren Youth Fair, either as a 4-H youth exhibitor or as an adult volunteer.

This year will be different.

Fair board members announced Thursday they are canceling the fair due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“The Van Buren Youth Fair Board of Directors has made the exceedingly difficult decision to cancel the in-person fair scheduled for July 20-25 as well as all activities scheduled at the fairgrounds through August,” the Fair Board stated in a news release. “This decision has been made in the best interest for the health and safety of our Van Buren County youth exhibitors and all others who participate in our fair experience.”

When Klett heard the news she cried.

“I have not missed a fair since I was 4 months old, and I am so heartbroken that the kids in our county don’t get the experience this year,” she said. “I especially feel for our high school seniors, who have already had so many experiences taken from them this year, and for our oldest exhibitors who have now lost their last year of showing.”

Fair Board President Stephanie Zabavski said the decision to cancel the in-person fair was very difficult.

“This decision was not made without due consideration. It was a grueling and complex decision, but the only appropriate decision for the in-person 2020 fair,” she said.

In determining what to do about this year’s fair, the Board reviewed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Start plan to re-engage Michigan’s economy and the requirements necessary to host in-person events that include, but are not limited to, social distancing in buildings, barns, concessionaire and midway areas, the wearing of face masks and other restrictions.

“With these strict requirements, the Fair Board feel that it is not logistically feasible to host a fair this year,” Zabavski said.

Like many 4-H families, much of Klett’s life has revolved around the fair.

“My grandparents were sheep superintendents at the fair, followed by my parents, and now for the last 10 years my husband and I have filled that role,” she said. “With our oldest child now showing, we are not unique in being a fourth-generation fair family. I think that really speaks volumes about the value that we place on our county fair and the importance that it holds to us as a fair community.”

This year would have marked the first time the couple’s oldest daughter, Audrey, could show her animals in the fair.

“Our 8-year-old daughter has two lambs and a feeder calf, and as a family we have been spending a couple hours a day working with her animals,” Klett said. “Other families have multiple kids showing multiple species.”

Taking part in the fair teaches children a lot about life, Klett went on to say.

“This is their first experience in entrepreneurship,” she said. “They purchase their animals, track all their expenses, put in countless hours of work, and at the end of the project they work to find buyers for their animals to ensure that they earn a profit, which they then invest in next year’s projects or save to pay for their first vehicle, college or trade school.

“They’re also learning animal husbandry, teamwork, cooperation, how to be good sports, how to be healthy competitors, and a whole host of other extremely important life skills.”

Even though she’s disappointed the fair has been canceled, Klett acknowledged the decision the board made wasn’t easy.

“Our fair board really did exhaust all their options before cancelling, and I know that the decision was difficult and emotional for them to make because they know how much it means to our kids and our community,” she said.

A county fair of one type or another in Van Buren County can trace its beginnings back nearly 170 years. The first mention of a fair came during the summer of 1851, when the Van Buren Agricultural Society was formed, according to the release issued by the Fair Board.

During the 1940s, fair officials were faced with a similar decision to cancel the fair for a period of time when the former fairground, located in downtown Hartford, was converted into a German prisoner of war camp.

“We look forward to 2021 and the return of a deeply-rooted county tradition, the 2021 Van Buren Youth Fair,” the fair board said.

In the meantime the fair board is considering whether portions of this year’s fair could possibly take place online.

“The Fair Board is still researching and considering all virtual options. We will provide everyone with the information as it is available,” the board stated.