Young farmers missing out because of canceled Jefferson County Fair

Unsettled lease between school system and fair board leaves fairgrounds padlocked.
Published: Jul. 5, 2021 at 6:03 PM EDT
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JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (WVLT) - Hundreds of participants will be missing out on the chance to show off everything from livestock to canned goods and quilting because of the canceled Jefferson County Fair. Plus, local businesses will miss their traditional networking opportunities and community donations will go unpaid.

Fair Board President Sam Thompson said he tried unsuccessfully to work out some sticky contract details with the Jefferson County School Board, so he could not continue with a 2021 fair in August.

“I basically asked for on clause to be added into the contract that simply said that they guaranteed if I signed the lease that we would be allowed to have our fair without them asking us to vacate the property for the purpose of building a new school.” The uncertainty about the fairgrounds that have been used since the 1950s stems from the ongoing debate between Jefferson County leaders and citizens about whether to renovate an elementary school or replace it with new construction on the fairgrounds site.

Farm families from throughout East Tennessee count on the Jefferson County Fair as a place to earn ribbons and network for farm business. One is the Gilliams family, that runs 4G Farms in neighboring Cocke County. Teen brothers Nathan and Eli raise angus beef cattle as part of their educational 4-H project that ties into their homeschooling. “That’s one of my good shows that I like to go to and I was very disappointed that it was closing,” said big brother Nathan. Both he and Eli spend months halter breaking and training their heifers, as well as getting them accustomed to the extensive grooming required for the show ring. The teens aspire to have top quality breeding stock that other farmers will want to purchase from them. They are learning about the business side of farming. “Gets my name out there and gets the cattle that I have out there so everybody else can see them,” Nathan about the fair. Each year, they plan to attend multiple livestock shows as they increase the scope of their projects.

Thompson said the fair often generates an average of $6,000 in donations for the school, which will not happen this year.

WVLT News reached out to the Director of Schools, Shane Johnston, about the issue. According to Johnston, the construction at the school would not have affected the 2021 fair, even if it got passed in early 2021. This is because “the project’s timeline did not have breaking of ground until after the fair’s dates in August,” he said.

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