Is your work fairly seasonal?
The nature of the work changes with the seasons, but it’s pretty steady for us year round. It takes a while to clean and wrap up after the fair closes, and then we take a little time off in the fall. But our convention season starts up fairly soon afterward.
It’s difficult for us to visit other fairs, actually. We try to go see what other fairs are doing, and there are several that happen right after ours.
How long has this fair been operating here?
This is our 106th year.
There were a couple years during World War II when there wasn’t a fair, but it was started in 1910.
Is that a normal age for a fair, or is this one older than typical?
There are some in the US that are 150 years or older, but for the west coast we’re about average.
How would you articulate the purpose of the fair?
One way to describe it is to talk about the five core values of the Northwest Washington Fair. When you look back at documents or meeting minutes from fifty or seventy-five years ago, it seems that the five core values were the same then as they are now.
The values are: agriculture, youth, education, entertainment, and community. Those are the things that we care about.
Many people only think of entertainment when they think about the fair. And that’s a big component of it, but there’s more to it as well.
Most fairs started as agricultural expositions. Some still have that in their name. As we’ve moved away from an agricultural economy, that becomes less central. But we consider it part of our mission to help educate people about where their food comes from.
Northwest Washington is a unique agricultural region—berries & dairy—is that uniqueness expressed in this fair?
You point to the reason that I love fairs. You can get a sense of a community by visiting its fair. Few things anymore give that anymore. I went to a small fair in another part of Washington recently and they had one single dairy cow. We have 250 dairy cows here. When I visited the Yakima fair there was a big display of hops, but we don’t have that here because we don’t grow hops in this area.
Here in Whatcom County, we have a number of crops that are difficult to showcase. Raspberries, for example, are difficult. The season is short, and our fair is held at the very tail end of the picking season. It is very hard to display the raspberry crop at the fair. But you would find references to it in some of the 4-H clubs.
What are you most excited about this year?
Fairs are steeped in tradition, and people love seeing the same sights and hearing the same sounds each year. The draft horse has become iconic for the Northwest Washington Fair. We have eleven draft horse hitches that will be at our fair, and they all come from Whatcom County. When you visit the Puyallup Fair, by comparison, there are a few draft horses. But guess where they’re from? Whatcom county. I always love the draft horses, so I get excited about that.
I always get a lump in my throat when we start the fair with the 4-H parade. It’s a long standing tradition, and I love it every time. To see 800-900 kids marching across the grounds, all excited to be at the fair—that’s what the fair is all about.
We have a lot of traditions like these, and each is important to to its own group. But it’s fun to think about new things too.
New this year is the Wenatchee Youth Circus. I don’t think you’ll be able to walk into the fair without seeing it. In that display we see several of our values, so I’m excited about it.
This is the third year with the rodeo as a part of the fair, and that has grown in popularity each year. Tradition has the fair starting with the demolition derby, and we’ll continue that.
Throughout the week we have a very good entertainment lineup. There’s something for everyone. We have Bill Gaither coming. He’s a gospel singer that is loved by some of the older folks. We also have Loverboy for the rock and roll fans, and Josh Turner for the younger and country fans. So, something for everyone.
Did you grow up here?
I was raised in Lynden.
In fact, I served as a member of the board of directors of the fair in the 80s. Then business to me to the Seattle for a few years, and then a few years after returning, I got this job.
So is that something you grow up dreaming about? “Someday I’m going to be the Director of the Fair!”
I never dreamed that I would.
My wife and I had one of the crazy eight hitches. We went to a lot of rodeos and horse shows. I told her from time to time that I would get a kick out of running or managing a horse shows. I thought I’d be good at it, but never dreamed that I’d have a part in producing dozens of horse shows every year.
But I’ve been involved in the fair regularly since I was in 4-H myself as a kid.
What’s the most common misperception about being Director of a Fair?
The question I get most often is: “Is that a full time job?” And yes in fact, we have eight people who work here full time.
And a lot more in August.
Yeah, about 300 people during fair time.
But there are two very distinct parts to our job. We put on the six day fair every year, and that accounts for about eighty percent of our annual revenue. And the facilities are rented almost year round. We have multiple events running simultaneously in every month of the year, except August.
I imagine that safety is getting some extra attention this year. What precautions are you taking to be sure that attendees of the fair are kept safe?
It’s important that people understand that there are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. But there are things that humans can do to prevent the spread of those diseases. One of the easiest to do is: wash your hands after you visit an exhibit with animals. We want to give people the opportunity to interact with animals in a safe way, so we keep handwashing stations at the entrance of each of the barns to make that really convenient for folks.
We partner with the Whatcom County Health Department to make sure the displays and the food are safe. Being in the community eye like we are gives us the chance to demonstrate best practices.
Speaking of food, there are several new food offerings this year. The place that’s been known for fried chicken in the past is adding fried frog legs this year. So for those that are a little adventurous, those will be available. There’s a new hawaiian food vendor too, and a vendor with reuben sandwiches.
Lots to look forward to.