Johnson County Fair returns in Gardner after pandemic disruption

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GARDNER, Kan. — After COVID-19 forced organizers to scale back the Johnson County Fair in 2020, the fairgrounds in Gardner are once again filling up with carnival rides, food trucks and 4H exhibits. 

The Johnson County Fair will return to the Gardner Fair Grounds on Sunday July 25 and run through Saturday July 31.

Johnson County Fair President Denise King has been a part of the county fair for the last 25 years. She started attending with her own children and is continuing the tradition this year with her granddaughter. 

“We’re just like a big family that loves livestock and loves agriculture,” King said 

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, last year’s the fair was limited to 4H animal showings only. This year the fair will feature agriculture exhibits, animal showings, food trucks, carnival rides, live music and games.  

“There’s barnyard Olympics, which is always fun. It’s a team of four and it’s a timed event. They move hay bales; they move buckets of water; they eat a slice of watermelon,” King said.  

King said this year the fair will add a Celebrity Showmanship event.  4H participants will give guest “celebrities” a first hand lesson in animal showing. 

“The mission of celebrity showmanship is to bring awareness of agriculture to our community,” King said. “Our kiddos are going to give them [the celebrities] a short presentation on how to show them [the animals]. Then they are going to go into the arena and have a showmanship contest.” 

Community  “celebrities” will include five Johnson County Commissioners, Sheriff Calvin Hayden and various county leaders. Each celebrity will have a bucket for donations, the celebrity with the most donations wins. All funds will go to the Johnson County Fair building fund.

King said the fair will also feature a celebrity appearance by actor Mo Bring Plenty, who has been featured on the Paramount show Yellowstone. 

General admission to the fair is free, but guests will have to pay to attend the carnival and indoor nightly arena events including the demolition derby. Tickets for the derby will be $12 per person and can be purchased at the Johnson County Fair office.

Kari Hamilton sits on the Johnson County Fair Board and helps operate Grandpa’s Barn, a free exhibit that let’s children get an up close look at baby farm animals. Hamilton and her family bring the animals from their farm in Spring Hill, Kansas. 

“It’s going to be really fun to see everyone again and get back into the swing of things. I think it’s going to be huge this year,” Hamilton said. 

Hamiliton said she enjoyed the fair being limited to just 4H animal showings last year, but is excited to have the carnival and food vendors return. 

The fair will include more than a dozen competitive animal showing events. Dalton Pattimore said has been showing animals his whole life and won best market heifer at the county fair in 2019.

“You just get to hang out with friends. That’s the best part about it. It’s not winning, it’s hanging out with friends,”  Pattimore said. 

Pattimore said caring for animals is a huge responsibility, but said it’s worth it.

“You gotta make sure you tend to them. You feed them every morning and every night; wash them, rinse them, blow them, clip them,”  Pattimore said. 

Twelve-year-old Torbin LaPean said he started showing animals competitively about six years ago. LaPean competes in the market division and hopes to win in his category this year. 

“I show market. You have to have the biggest meat and bone. It has to look the best and show its best,” LaPean said.

The county fair parade will kick-off Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in downtown Gardner. You can find the full fair schedule here.

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