Moments after officially canceling the 2020 Steele County Free Fair, the manager of the county’s biggest annual party was already in discussions about how to bring the fun to the fairgrounds this summer.
“We want to take some little steps toward bring the smiles back on people’s faces,” said Fair Manager Scott Kozelka. “We want to still be able to do what we always do up here — have fun.”
On June 27-28, the Steele County Fairgrounds will host Drive-In Dairy Days. Working in collaboration with the Steele County American Dairy Association, the weekend will see 10 fan favorite fair-food vendors lined up in front of the grandstand in celebration of June Dairy Month.
“The Malt Stand is number one,” Kozelka said in regard to the beloved ADA Malt Stand that is a staple at the fair every year. “Along with them, I tried to come up with additional stands that fit or coordinate with dairy and agriculture.”
Kozelka said that the fair felt compelled to help the local ADA chapter following the cancelation of not only the fair but also Breakfast on the Farm, which serves as the association’s main Dairy Month celebration and fundraiser. The Malt Stand is also set up during Owatonna Crazy Days and the Fourth of July events to raise money, both which have been canceled in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are just trying to help everyone we can who normally helps us at the fair in a variety of ways,” Kozelka said. “We want to work and do the things that we are allowed to do for the people of Steele County and all the friends of the fair.”
Steele County American Dairy Association Board member Gail Zollner said this opportunity to open the stand next weekend is crucial for its fundraising efforts.
“The Malt Stand is basically one of our main fundraisers for the American Dairy Association, but it also serves as a fundraiser for other nonprofit groups that come in and help run it,” Zollner explained. “We are just excited to be there and have an event in a safe and appropriate way, but while still giving everyone a taste of their favorite fair fare.”
The food stands will be spaced a minimum of 30 feet apart from one another to adhere to appropriate social distancing. Kozelka and Zollner both emphasized that the event is “drive-in” and that picnic tables and areas for gathering will not be provided.
“It really is meant to allow you to come in and get your fix,” Kozelka said, adding that they will have volunteers on the grounds reminding people to remain at a safe social distance. Zollner echoed Kozelka, suggesting that people treat it like they would if they were eating ice cream in their cars in the middle of winter.
Despite the drive-in aspect of the event, Zollner said that they will still be providing some education on dairy, and how individuals and families can incorporate the important food group into their diets.
“There are a lot of ways to incorporate dairy different than just drinking more milk,” Zollner said. “I may not drink as many glasses as I should as an adult, but it sure goes well in my coffee. There are a lot of different ways like that to include in your diet as a great way to get protein as well as a nice way to support some of our local farmers.”
Also in attendance at the event will be the Steele County Dairy Princess. In traditional year, the dairy princesses would be busy visiting daycares and day camps to present fun crafts and share healthy dairy-based snacks with the kids. With the restrictions surrounding COVID-19, Zollner said that the dairy princesses have been more active on social media, posting videos of them visiting a local farm and reading stories for kids to consume on the Steele County Dairy Farmers Facebook page. The princesses will talk about the importance of dairy to those in attendance at Dairy Days.
“This is going to be a great fun and new opportunity to do something different this year as a way to celebrate Dairy Month,” Zollner said. “We are excited to be there.”
Aside from Dairy Days, Kozelka said that the fair staff and Board of Directors are still exploring different ideas on how to bring events to the fairgrounds throughout the year. They are currently planning on having a handful of food stands available in front of the grandstand on Fourth of July, and are in the beginning of discussions about an event during fair week as well as a potential fall festival. Kozelka said that any events at the fairgrounds in 2020 will likely have a similar set up to Dairy Days.