Terry Quam admits he still gets a little choked up when talking about the Lodi Agricultural Fair.
It’s one of the few independent fairs left in Wisconsin, and Quam feels it brings the community together.
“That’s what fairs do,” said Quam, a local farmer who is the president of the Lodi Agricultural Fair Board. “They connect people.”
Quam spoke at the Optimist Club lunch on Wednesday at Reach Out Lodi, as he was accompanied by the “Fairest of the Fair,” Taylor Henningfield. She updated club members on changes at the fair, including this year’s new dates.
Usually held in July, the fair will be held Sept. 2-5, running through Labor Day Weekend this year. Last year, the event didn’t happen at all, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quam said fair officials are expecting the event to return to its regular July dates next year, although he said, “When I was a kid, it was held on Labor Day Weekend.”
Henningfield, who is from Cross Plains and is a senior at Wisconsin Heights High School, said she’s been exhibiting at the Lodi Ag Fair since she was age 8. Mostly, she’s exhibited in the categories of beef and swine.
The Lodi Ag Fair is one of four independent fairs that remain in the state, the others taking place in Stoughton, Elroy and Bloomington.
Along with the date change, Henningfield discussed what else is new for the fair this year. The usual Sunday night Truck n Tractor pull – put on by the South Central Tractor Pullers – in the grandstands is moving to Thursday. In its place for Sunday is an outdoor movie at dark.
There’s also a new day and time for the Rabbit Show, as it switches to Saturday at 8:30 a.m. in the Rabbit Tent. Henningfield said the move was made to allow school kids to show their rabbits.
Also, a wall has been built with bricks featuring the names of donors and a more permanent cement ramp and railing has been installed by the schoolhouse to accommodate the disabled and elderly. A Memory Book will also be available for fairgoers to write down their favorite memories of the fair, which has been going for more than 150 years.
For a full schedule of events, visit https://www.lodiagfair.com/fair-schedule.html.
A family affair
Quam said, “The fair is a family,” and talked about how he got involved. At the time, Quam said the fair was going through hard times. He related that he was a young farmer with kids when he was asked to participate, and he first said no. Then, his wife pulled him aside and convinced him he was needed.
Part of what makes the Lodi Ag Fair special is that it’s on its own, said Quam. It is not under the control of any government. Quam said the goals of the fair are youth and agriculture education.
“We keep ag in the name because that’s our job,” said Quam. Teaching the community about agriculture is the fair’s mission, he added.
It’s also important for farm kids, according to Quam. He said that he was recently at a school district event where much of the talk centered around what could be done to combat bullying and racism. What wasn’t discussed was what it’s like for farm kids to go to school.
Quam relayed the story of a farm family whose daughter was ashamed of what they did for a living. Still, she showed her pigs at the fair, and he said her friends fell in love with the animals she showed. Afterward, she was proud of her farm family.
Quam said one of the lessons he’s learned is that “a fair has to be something for everybody.” As examples, he cited the presence of the schoolhouse, which provides a connection to educators, and the involvement of the quilting guild.
The fair can also lift one’s spirits. Quam said those having a bad day should go to the junior exhibit hall and see how excited kids get to show and win ribbons.
It’s also free to enter, unlike other similar fairs. It costs $8 a head to get into the Stoughton fair. At the Lodi Ag Fair, Quam said there’s no gatekeeper. Of course, carnival rides and some activities do charge. Still, it’s possible to enjoy the fair for free.
“You can get a day’s worth of entertainment, and you don’t have to spend a dime,” said Quam.
Outside vendors call him all the time to try to get their food wagons into the fair. The only ones that are allowed are locals. Quam said the goal is to keep the money in the community.
Quam also described the fair board as a “working board,” meaning that to be a part of it, members have to pull their weight and actually put in work. Quam said a lot of fairs have boards of directors who let everyone else do the work.
Regarding the change in dates, Quam said the decision was made in February, and it was the best decision the board could have made based on timelines for the COVID-19 vaccine. He said the fair could not go another year without income, so it had to go on this year.
“Last year, we took quite a hit,” said Quam. He explained that the annual fair budget for maintenance and operation of the event is $40,000.
Quam also explained that the fair is not just for locals. He said attendees come from seven different counties to enjoy the event, with kids from several school districts involved.
“They keep coming back,” said Quam. “That says it all.”