As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the country, forcing nearly every state to issue “Stay At Home” directives to residents, here in Switzerland County groups of people are meeting in anyway they can and creating alternative plans for summer activities here.
What a month ago would have seemed like an impossible scenario, foundational community events like the Switzerland County 4-H Fair in early July and the Swiss Wine Festival in late August are now considering the possibility that those events will not happen — or if they do, they might look a lot different than previous years.
Purdue Extension Switzerland County’s Kyle Weaver said that Switzerland County, like all other counties in Indiana, are awaiting a statewide decision by officials at Purdue University on the state’s county fairs held throughout the summer.
“We are making adjustments at the county level,” Weaver said. “Now the actual decision whether to have the fair or change the format of the fair will actually come from the campus at Purdue. So we’re trying to do alternatives — whether or not we have the fair, and if the fair is still taking place, does it look like a traditional fair?”
Weaver said that discussions have included holding a “virtual” fair, or reducing the number of days of the fair.
“We’re trying to think of ways to accomplish the fair in some type of format,” Weaver said. “It’s a celebration of the county.”
Weaver said that the State Director of Purdue Extension Jason Henderson, and his staff will make a statewide determination, but what that looks like could be widely different.
“They may say you can have a fair, but no livestock. Or they may say you can have a fair with less than 10 people,” Weaver said. “Again, it depends on the CDC guidelines. They are working on it right now, what alternative plans might be as opposed to a traditional fair.”
At the local level, Weaver said that the members of the Switzerland County Fairboard are awaiting directives from the state, but are also thinking about ways to have alternatives to things that happen even before the actual fair begins.
“We have to look at alternative plans for things like tagging the animals,” he said. “What we traditionally used to do is that they would bring their animals to the fairgrounds and we would tag them here; but now all of the 4-Hers are now going to tag their animals at home. That’s one big, huge difference from what we’ve done traditionally.”
Weaver said that the various deadline dates for the fair have also been impacted, so the fairboard has moved everything back in order to accommodate potential new guidelines.
“All of the things, as far as our online system, were all due by May 15th, but that’s now been pushed back to June 1st,” Weaver said. “This for all of the deadlines for animal enrollment — they’ve all been pushed back.”
Another hurdle to be cleared are rules that 4-H members need to attend a certain number of club meetings in order to be eligible to have projects at the fair. With “Stay At Home” orders in place, club leaders are finding new ways for their members to attend meetings.
“There’s probably going to be a waiver on some of those required meetings, but we’re hoping that clubs are doing different things like virtual meetings and doing lots of social media things. That’s what we’re hoping is happening. We’re seeing that a little bit. Some clubs are doing Zoom meetings, so that’s helping.”
Weaver said that he is expecting a decision from Purdue Extension “soon”, noting that they are supposed to be making decisions for June and July within the next few weeks. Disruptions or canceling of county fairs will also have a huge impact on the Indiana State Fair, set for late summer in Indianapolis.
“Absolutely,” Weaver said of the State Fair impact. “Every county in the state is waiting on the decision at the state level. Those decisions will have a big impact on what, if anything, happens at the State Fair.”
Currently, the Switzerland County 4-H Fair is scheduled to run from Thursday, July 2nd through Saturday, July 11th.
SWISS WINE FESTIVAL
Swiss Wine Festival President Joe Parham said that the organizing committee will be meeting “very soon” to make decisions about this year’s Swiss Wine Festival — and many of those decisions will be difficult ones.
“We’re going to be meeting over it hopefully sometime this week, and everybody stand way apart from each other and try and figure out what we’re going to do,” Parham said.
He said that actually holding the four day event — which is set to run from Thursday, August 27th through Sunday, August 30th — is just one of many decisions that need to be addressed.
“Right now, with this Coronavirus, it’s a bad time to be asking people and businesses for money, for one,” he said. “And that’s something that I’ve been running by some of the other board members. If we delay it, we don’t know how we’d delay it.”
Parham said that contracts for entertainment talent have already gone out, and in some cases deposits for those entertainers have been paid. He said that should the festival not happen or be moved, then how do those contracts hold up with different dates — or no dates at all?
“I’m going to give you my honest opinion — I think we should wait,” Parham said. “The reason being is — say they do lift all of these restrictions, people are still going to be scared to be around other people. We draw people from several states, so you don’t know what restrictions may or may not still be on those states. This thing just can’t sustain itself just with local people. We have to bring in the out of towners, too. They’re our big money spenders.”
Parham said that everyone on the festival committee is aware of all of the obstacles that have to be eliminated if the festival is to happen in late August — and even if the state will be allowing large gatherings by that point. It’s a decision that he doesn’t take lightly, and it’s also one that he won’t be making on his own.
“That’s why our committee needs to meet,” he said. “I’m going to call a meeting and say ‘look, we need to figure out something’.”
The financial element of putting on such a large festival is one of the keys. Parham noted that individuals, local businesses, and corporations all around the area that have traditionally helped fund all of the events and entertainment have been hit hard economically by the slowdown of the economy due to COVID-19, and that makes financially funding such a large festival tricky.
“We’ve got people who are on hold right now. We’ve got deposits out there, trying to figure that if this thing goes South — are we going to get our money back? We know that we’ll probably be cut next year from places that we normally get money from, things like that. I can’t see our committee with a clear conscience walking into these businesses that have been struggling to stay open and asking them for money. That just wouldn’t be right in my opinion.”
As far as the entertainment, Parham said that contracts have been sent out and secured.
“We’ve got a lot of them already,” he said. “Some of them have deposits, some of them don’t. Our big entertainment, they’ve got a good-sized down payment, so we’re going to try and work with them and see what we can do.”
Parham said that the insurance company that the Swiss Wine Festival goes through is headquartered in Indianapolis and deals exclusively with fairs and festivals, so he is wanting to speak with them and see what they are seeing and what the trends may be heading into the summer from other festivals that they are associated with — and to see what the options are here.
“Worse case scenario, we’re probably going to delay it, maybe. That would be the worst case,” Parham said. “And that’s only because what money we do have, we’re going to need it for next year, and hopefully next year they’ll have a vaccine and people won’t be so afraid. There’s too much stuff up in the air right now.”
If the decision to delay the festival until 2021 is made, Parham said it will be made by the whole board, but noted that he really didn’t see any logical way that they festival could be moved back until later in 2020, because the threat of potentially a “second wave” of COVID-19 has been warned by some experts; and it would also necessitate making sure that entertainment talent, food and craft vendors, and attenders would all be available at that later date.
“A lot of the different news channels that I watch — and I’ve been on this hard. There’s this opinion and this opinion. What’s this state doing? What’s this state doing?,” Parham said. “Honestly, if you look at it, it isn’t going to get better anytime soon; and if restrictions are lifted, will people come, or will people still be too scared to come, especially people from out of town? There’s already been a lot of festivals around the state canceled already, but I want to see how far along it goes. Even things that have been rescheduled are still subject to change.”
Above all, Parham wants the community to know that whatever decision is ultimately made, he and the committee members won’t take that decision lightly, because they all understand how important the festival has been and is to the community.