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Michigan fair organizers set plans for the season
By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
Michigan Correspondent

SIDNEY, Mich. — E. coli, equine herpes, Avian Influenza and financial concerns.

Potential disease issues as well as how to fund fairs were the primary topics of discussion during the Michigan Assoc. of Fairs and Exhibitions (MAFE) zone meeting April 26 at Montcalm Community College in Sidney.

MAFE Executive Director E.J. Brown and Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) Fairs and Financial Programs Coordinator Cinda Karlik were on-hand to discuss with MAFE member fair managers and volunteers what they should do to prepare for their events.

“This is an opportunity for us to talk about what’s coming up this season,” Brown said. “Nobody at this point really knows what we’re going to face, but we need to be prepared.”

The MDA recently conducted an e. coli workshop to educate organizers about potential hazards for fairgoers – a topic Brown and Karlik said should be on the minds of event coordinators.

“Most of us in this room are not affected by (e. coli). We grew up around it and have built up immunities,” Brown said.

“It’s the visitors at our facilities that we have to be concerned with.” Karlik said, “It’s mom who’s taking her little baby through the barn in a stroller. The child’s pacifier falls out, she wipes it on her pants and sticks it back in the child’s mouth.”

“How do you prevent that? You can’t,” Brown said. “But you have to try to educate the public.

“Post all the signs you think you should have and then put up your own posters, too,” he said.

“And provide hand-washing opportunities,” Karlik said.

The MDA has made available to fairs a 3-foot by 8-foot color banner that is intended to inform the public about the need to wash their hands while visiting the fair.

Visit www.michigan.gov/mda for more information.

“There are a lot of things you don’t think about with e. coli,” said Alice Hoitinga, a member of the Montcalm County 4-H Fair Assoc. board or directors who attended the MDA e. coli training.

“We learned that the hand sanitizers didn’t do the job. They said you were just sanitizing the dirt. You need water and soap to get the dirt off.

“When you heard about these different things like kids being in with the animals and petting them, getting manure on their feet, going through the barn with food,” they have to be aware of the threat of e. coli, she said.

Avian Influenza, or bird flu, is an issue that Brown and Karlik said the fairs should have a plan for, but they cautioned fair organizers not to overreact to the situation before it occurs.

“It’s everybody’s educated guess that it’s going to affect us at some time,” Brown said. “When, where and how nobody knows.

“At the state level they’re putting together a plan of action in case it comes into the U.S.,” Brown said. “This is what you as fairs should do ahead of time. It may or may not happen this year.

“There’s no scientific evidence that it’s going to come to Michigan. There’s nothing you really can do, but just stay tuned,” he said.

Brown also discussed an outbreak of equine herpes in southwestern Michigan earlier this year and cautioned fair organizers to “be aware” of the issue.

“Should we be concerned about it going into fair season?” he asked. “From an animal industries standpoint, probably not.”

In addition to disease concerns, Karlik told the group that fair financing from the state level appears to be “safe” this year.

The state legislature has given preliminary approval to the fair industry’s appropriation, which includes $966,300 in matching funds to be appropriated to Michigan’s fairs to help offset the cost of maintenance, repairs, rentals and other capital-type improvements.

Each fair may apply for up to $30,000 in matching funds, of which they have to provide a monetary match. Thus the fair will be paid no more than half or a maximum of $15,000.

Last year the appropriation was cut from the budget and later reinstated.

Karlik told the participants that with the changing financial atmosphere in Michigan, it is important for all fairs to be keeping financial records in a similar fashion.

Thus, she suggested that the MDA and MAFE schedule a financial record-keeping workshop in the fall.

“We have some problems with fairs that have major financial record-keeping problems,” she said.

““I would like to take time to talk about what is being reported, how it is being reported and financial controls that should be considered by your fair boards.

“We need to look at how fairs are reporting figures so we have some uniform reporting requirements,” Karlik said.

She said that fair boards need to look at their structure and how they’re conducting business.

“You need to look at the board as a whole because the board as a whole is responsible for the financial management of the fair,” she said.

Lynn Mast, treasurer with the Newaygo County Agricultural Fair Assoc., said he would gladly attend a financial training session. “It would be good for us. It could help us with planning our budgets for the next year,” Mast said.

For more information about the state and county fairs in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/mda

This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.

5/3/2006