Fair markets blend trends, traditions

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Margaret Plevak | August 31, 2013

ELKHORN--At this year's Walworth County Fair, you can pick up a jar of homemade jam or gourmet pet treats, watch a blacksmith ply his trade, and get a lesson on medieval cooking, all in the same day.

The experiences are all part of a new feature, according to Eileen Walsh Grzenia, Walworth County Fair board director.

The three new main areas, close to Kiddieland on the fairgrounds, and running daily, include a farmers market, an old-world artisan village, and a medieval encampment.

The farmers market features  about 20 vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables, jams, jellies, baked goods, freshly ground nut butters, cheese honey, handcrafted soaps and scrubs, perennials like mums, and more.

There will be a few unexpected vendors as well. In the Old World Artisan Village, craftsmen like a blacksmith and a carver of handcrafted wooden shoes will be at work. Grzenia said items for sale will include jewelry, pottery, stained glass, fiber arts, metal works, photography and artwork.

The nearby medieval encampment will feature participants from the Society of Creative Anachronism, an international group. Many will be in period dress and involved in various crafts, skills and sports typical of the time.

Throughout the market, village and encampment, artisans will offer educational demonstrations at booths, tents and the market's gazebo, so visitors can not only shop and browse, but get an up-close look at old-world craftsmanship.

Grzenia said she's been thinking about a farmers market at the fair for years. She sees its setting as ideal for connecting consumers with vendors in local agricultural businesses.

The market's fresh food offerings make shopping for dinner on site easier for the hundreds of vendors and exhibitors who camp on the grounds during the fair's run, Grzenia said. But are day-tripping fairgoers willing to mix fun with food shopping?

“Part of the fun of being a Midwesterner is how adaptable we are to our weather and summertime adventures,” she wrote in an email. “Fair guests are known already to have packed a cooler in their vehicle for cream puffs and fudge. We encouraged them to please save some cooler space for fresh-pressed apple cider, garden fresh sweet corn and tomatoes, too. I learned years ago a fresh sweet corn stand near the Armory gate was a popular stop for fair guests.” 

Grzenia, the official court reporter for Walworth County Circuit Judge David Reddy, has been a board member since 2009. She's got an agricultural history that stretches back to the town of Bloomfield farm she grew up on, 4-H projects, and the family business, The Cheese Box, that once operated in Lake Geneva.

But Grzenis also has another fair role.

“I am the creator of the fair's official pie, which is brought to surrounding fairs for fundraising and promotional purposes,” she said. “This year's pie is the Walworth County Fair Hidden Cream Cherry Supreme pie. “

Her first effort in 2009 was a caramel apple pie. She just exhibited it at the 2013 Wisconsin State Fair in the Kenmore Heritage Fruit Pie Competition, winning second out of 31 pies. It was also selected as the Wisconsin State Fair judge's favorite pie.

Fair pie sales have raised over $7,000 for fair causes since 2009, and they've provided some tasty desserts over the years. All pie recipes are shared on the fair's Facebook page in the “Notes” section.   

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