Countdown to IPM '17 - Brussels Fall Fair takes shape
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
This year’s Brussels Fall Fair represents just one of many firsts that the International Plowing Match (IPM) in Walton will bring to the world of competitive plowing in Ontario.
As well as having the first-ever female chair in IPM history in Jacquie Bishop, this year’s match will be the backdrop for the first-ever authentic rural Ontario fall fair to be held at an IPM.
This is a responsibility that those involved with the Brussels Agricultural Society, as well as the organizers of the 2017 IPM, don’t take lightly. And, now as the months have gone on, details about the partnership and what the fair at the IPM will look like are beginning to emerge.
Matt Cardiff, the youngest-ever president of the Brussels Agricultural Society, is the man behind the partnership. He said that when faced with the fact that the traditional date of the fair would be during the 2017 IPM he didn’t see a challenge, but rather, an opportunity.
“It sounded like a great opportunity to do something different,” Cardiff said.
The proposal dates back to 2014 when discussion began and then at the society’s annual meeting in January, 2015 when the concept was formally put to the society.
What would follow were a number of monthly meetings during which the logistics and feasibility of hosting the Brussels Fall Fair at the IPM were discussed at length.
Those meetings culminated in a secret ballot vote among members of the society at their May 6, 2015 meeting at the Brussels Library in which 83 per cent of members voted in favour of holding the fair at the IPM. Bishop had been in attendance at the meeting to deliver her final pitch to the group, but then excused herself ahead of the vote to ensure members would be able to express their opinions freely.
With the immense positivity surrounding the proposal after several rounds of problem-solving sessions, the decision to host the fair at the IPM was met with a round of applause by the over 60 members of the Brussels Agricultural Society in attendance that night.
At the time, Bishop also applauded the decision in an e-mail to The Citizen.
“We feel that it is very fitting with the celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary to include a historic, authentic rural fair, which has been the fabric of our rural community longer than the confederation of our country,” she said. “We welcome the resourcefulness and vision that the fair members have and look forward to working with the volunteers from the community of Brussels and beyond with this endeavour.”
Once the decision had been made, the society struck a special subcommittee to handle all things associated with hosting the fair at the IPM, which included Secretary/Treasurer Brian Schlosser, former Presidents Dorothy Cummings and Nicole Noble and President Matt Cardiff.
Since then plenty of work has been done and details have been ironed out, which have brought into focus what the 2017 edition of the fair will look like at the IPM.
The fair will be housed within a tent that measures 60’ by 150’, a footprint that will provide exhibitors with as much as space as they would have at a normal fall fair at the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre, if not more, according to Cummings.
And while the details surrounding a midway being part of the 2017 fair have yet to be finalized, both Cardiff and Schlosser are optimistic that fair-goers will exit the Brussels tent into the midway to complete the authentic fall fair experience.
Cardiff says he hopes to secure at the very least a ferris wheel that will encourage IPM visitors to take in a bird’s eye view of the grounds at the crest of the wheel’s revolution.
With these grand plans come grand expectations as Schlosser, a long-serving member of the society, has guaranteed that 125,000 people will see the fair as a result of the move.
It’s possibilities and opportunities like having 125,000 sets of eyes on all Brussels has to offer that made Schlosser feel the decision to host the fair at the IPM was a no-brainer.
That enthusiasm and confidence has been crucial going forward, as Schlosser says his biggest challenge on a day-to-day basis has been convincing doubters that the society is capable of pulling off such a massive undertaking.
“It’s getting easier. We’re all on board now,” Schlosser said. “One person at a time you just have to explain how it will work.”
Part of the plan to make things special for the 2017 fair are the new ribbons being introduced by the society this year – a decision that was approved just weeks ago at the organization’s annual meeting.
The ribbons will honour the 100th IPM, the 156th Brussels Fall Fair and the 150th anniversary of Canada, which is why the ribbons will be coloured brilliant red and white. They will also be significantly bigger than ribbons from previous fairs.
Another departure from the fall fair’s norm is that the ribbons will be distributed to all who enter their work into the fair this year, not just those who place first, second or third.
While the ribbons are just one more way to encourage participation in the fair, the hope of members of the society is that the more people enter, the better the exhibition is for the community of Brussels.
“I thought it was a fabulous idea,” Cummings said of hosting the fair at the 2017 IPM. “It means so many more people we can showcase Brussels to.”
Cummings also added that the 4-H component of the show, which includes both beef and sheep competitions, will be much bigger as well, because they will be held in the Dodge Ram Rodeo ring, which is a great opportunity for young 4-H members to reach larger audiences than they’ve ever seen before.
While many of the fair’s displays are anticipated to come from Brussels and area residents, Cummings and others have already been proactive in recruiting regular IPM-goers to be part of the fair and to show off all they can do.
At the 2016 IPM in Wellington County, society members distributed literature on the fair and its many categories to those camping at the site, hoping to encourage them to enter items into the 2017 Brussels Fall Fair.
This means that when IPM-goers arrive in Walton on the Monday of the match, they will be asked to enter their items at the fair tent, where they will be taken in alongside items that had been dropped off at the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre over the weekend to be judged and awarded in time for the fair to open its doors on Tuesday morning when the IPM begins.
Both Schlosser and Cummings acknowledge that the Sunday and Monday of the week will be challenging and stressful for those involved with the society, but believe the extra work will be worth it when the finished product is on display.
While Cardiff is confident that society members will be able to carry out this momentaneous task on their own, the pool of IPM volunteers has also been made available if they need them. In addition, members of other local agricultural societies, sensing the size of the task at hand, have volunteered their time to help when September rolls around.
One of the biggest helping hands, however, came when Brussels Agromart came on as an event-specific sponsor for the Brussels Fall Fair at this year’s IPM.
Doug Koch from the Agromart said that the company has a long history of supporting the local fair and this year took that support to the next level in order to ensure its success at the IPM.
He said it has always been important for owners Merle and Rhonda Hoegy that they support the community that supports them through their business.
Bishop said the Hoegy family was one of the first sponsors to come on board, decorating some of the company’s trucks with the IPM logo as early as last spring.
In addition to the company’s monetary donation, it will also provide in-kind services to help make the fair a success.
Koch said that it was important for the Agromart to sponsor the fall fair because of its educational component. Teaching children about agriculture, he said, will help secure the future of the industry.
Cardiff is a young man who has grown up around the Brussels Fall Fair and he’s part of a family with a rich history of involvement with the Brussels Agricultural Society, but he knows that not all children, even locally, have those opportunities now.
“The fall fair is important to try and keep that rural lifestyle and tradition alive,” Cardiff said. “Young people these days don’t necessarily grow up with that, so any chance we have to expose them to that is good.”
He said he hopes that the fair reaching tens of thousands of people this fall will encourage people who didn’t necessarily grow up in the world of fall fairs and the rural lifestyle to pick up a hobby the fair encourages and to help keep the tradition alive.
Cardiff also said he feels the fair plays a strong role in building communities. When someone goes to the fall fair, they get to see what their neighbours have been up to, what their talents are and what they’re capable of. With the fair being held at the IPM this year, that authentic, rural community spirit can be spread to tens of thousands of people.
“A lot of what the fair is about is the culmination of a year’s work in rural Ontario,” he said.
There will be some aspects of the fair, however, that will have to fall by the wayside in 2017 for logistical reasons such as the parade. However, organizers are working hard to create a familiarity inside the Brussels Fall Fair tent that will resonate with those who have attended the fair for years.
Bringing the Brussels Fall Fair to a potential 125,000 people will be no small task. In terms of sheer time, the fair is normally a two-day affair and for the IPM it will be expanded to five days.
Cardiff is confident in the group, however, because he thinks the massive task of the 12 months from the 2016 fair until the 2017 fair has already begun.
There was, of course, the 2016 Brussels Fair, which was followed closely by the society sponsoring a first-ever passing of the torch from the Wellington County IPM to the 2017 IPM in September, which involved a tractor parade and an evening of food and entertainment at the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre.
Cardiff said that some felt it was crazy to take on such a large event just days after the 2016 fair, but he knew the society was capable of pulling it off. The event would turn out to be a huge success.
In recent months, the society has been hosting a number of fundraising events to ensure they have the means to host the fair at the IPM, which have demanded additional volunteer hours from society members, but those have also been successes, including the society’s first-ever ladies night and a children’s event, which together raised thousands for the organization.
The fall fair will always be the society’s primary focus, Cardiff said, but in the 12 months between September 2016 and 2017, the fair will be just one more challenge worth the effort for a more-than-capable group of dedicated volunteers wanting to show off their community.
Schlosser views the opportunity in a similar way as Cardiff, saying he hopes that what the Brussels Fall Fair is doing at this year’s IPM will strengthen the fabric of fall fairs across the entire province thanks to the Brussels Agricultural Society.
“We will have 125,000 people seeing our fall fair this year – people from all over Ontario. We can’t expect them to come back to our fair, but they could get involved in their own local fair,” Schlosser said. “That’s my biggest hope – that these people will become more involved in their local districts and that it was our fair that opened their eyes.”