Nevada County Fair: Bucking a trend

CALIFORNIA COUNTIES HAVE A long tradition of celebrating their agricultural bounties with a network of county fairs dating back to the Civil War. The tradition continues to this day, with animals, ag education, rides and attractions, concerts and—of course—fair food.

Just like the state parks, however, the state’s network of 78 fairs has come under severe financial pressure because of the state’s financial woes. Many are suffering, but others are responding to the challenge by becoming more entrepreneurial: They are cutting costs, finding new revenue sources and attracting more year-round events.

Nowhere is a county fair more visibly succeeding than in Nevada County. “Fairs need to make the transition from functioning as nonprofits to operating in an entrepreneurial mode,” says Sandy Woods, the Fair’s chief executive officer, who has an extensive background in the private sector and is president of the prestigious Western Fairs Association.

The Nevada County Fair has been increasing its financial reserve each year, revitalizing its existing events, and more recently, renting out the fairgrounds for marquee concerts. The Fair generates more than $20 million in spending activity annually, according to the state Division of Fairs & Expositions.

Located under tall pine trees in Grass Valley, the Fairgrounds are commonly referred to as “California’s most beautiful fairgrounds” and home to the Fair, the Draft Horse Classic and Country Christmas Fair.

This year’s county Fair, August 8-12, will feature new attractions, such as an exotic bird exhibit, “ag experience” projects promoting more agriculture education, and a new-and-improved monster truck show.

On Sept. 14, the Fairgrounds will be the venue for a benefit concert starring American music icon Willie Nelson, presented by The Center for the Arts.

It is the 10th annual benefit concert for the Bear Yuba Land Trust.

The Draft Horse Classic, Sept. 20-23, will feature an exciting new attraction: Gerard Paagman and his House of the Friesians, which helped bring the Olympic torch to Vancouver in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Treat Street
Treat Street at the Nevada County Fair is famous for its delicious fair food — once featured on Huell Howser’s California’s Gold program on PBS.

More than 30 booths along a new pathway are staffed by volunteers from non- profit groups selling corn dogs, corn on the cob, hamburgers, hot dogs, pulled-pork sandwiches, caramel corn, funnel cake and more.

(Fairgrounds painting by Katie Wolff; Willie Nelson photo by Christopher Durst)

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