By MELISSA HART
NOVI, Mich. — With the cattle, sheep, hogs, goats and horses in place and the dignitaries gathered, a carnival came alive as the Great Lakes State Fair opened the gates and the people flooded in for Labor Day weekend in Novi.
Organizers for Michigan’s revived state fair, announced attendance figures for the Michigan tradition that finally returned to the Metro Detroit area after a three-year absence. According to Kent Roberts, vice chair of the Great Lakes State Fair Board, more than 50,000 people passed through the gates at the Suburban Collection Showcase, the new venue for the state fair, Aug. 31-Sept. 3.
They enjoyed all the fair had to offer, including livestock exhibits, agricultural displays, crafts, music, rides, games, Michigan-made food and beverages, zany contests and the Shrine Circus – a fair first.
Roberts attributed the fair’s success to the financial support of the event’s 20 sponsors and the promotional efforts of its agency partners, Axis Cross Media and Logos Communications.
“We couldn’t have revived this wonderful Michigan tradition without our army of sponsors and we’re extremely grateful for their support, which enabled over 50,000 people to enjoy the state fair for the first time in three years,” said Roberts.
“A lot of credit for generating such a large turnout also goes to our promotional partners, who did an excellent job getting the word out that the state fair was returning.”
The night before the fair began a ribbon-cutting marked the opening of the first Great Lakes State Fair. Michigan U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, along with Great Lakes State Fair Board member Mark Chapman of South Rockwood, were selected to cut the ceremonial ribbon.
Stabenow was selected because of her role on the Senate Ag Committee and her dedication to Michigan’s agriculture industry. Chapman was selected because of his family’s history with the fair, with five generations having been continuous sheep exhibitors until 2009, when the previous fair ended.
Beef cattle exhibitor Cliff Simmons of Omega Farms in Williamston had a string of Angus cattle at the inaugural event. He wanted to exhibit at the Great Lakes State Fair because it’s an integral part of marketing the farm’s cattle and while it is known all over the country, its genetics aren’t as well known in Michigan.
He added, “As generations of people become further and further removed from the farm, it’s in all of our best interests to expose the younger generations to agriculture and food production.”
He also said those who move out to the country need to be educated on what they will experience when they move next door to a farm, and maybe they will be more tolerant of the smells and slow-moving vehicles.
Willis Plank of Hillsdale spent his first Great Lakes State Fair as a sheep exhibitor. When asked why he wanted to exhibit at the state fair, his reply was simple: History.
“I grew up at the old state fair in Detroit and my kids exhibited at the last state fair in Detroit and it was the first time they had exhibited there. I was asked to be part of the group to help get it going, and I said, ‘Yes, all the way,’” he said. “Everyone who walks through the livestock building, it will be a learning program, I’m happy that it’s back.”
Retired educator and dairy farmer Arlene DeForest of Ann Arbor had a string of dairy cattle on exhibit, along with several free educational pieces to help educate visitors.
Plans for the 2013 Great Lakes State Fair are underway, with bigger and better ideas. Roberts is excited about prospects for next year.
“We’re confident that our sponsors will return next year to help us carry on the great state tradition that we resurrected this year,” he said. “With more months to plan, the fair should be even bigger and better next year.”