John Bowman, with his worn Michigan International Speedway cap, sat proudly next to his home-bred Jersey dairy cows.
“If you come back on Thursday, you can get your picture with a prize winner,” he said confidently, leaning back in his folding chair.
For Bowman’s family, coming back to the Hillsdale County Fair this week is part of a more than 80-year-long family event.
“It’s a tradition,” Bowman said.
Bowman explained that his pregnant cows will show best.
“The udder is important,” he said.
John’s brother, sister, and niece all show their farm animals as well.
Just across the barn, his grandson Max Hughes of Jonesville, 15, is showing his Holstein Friesian cow named Big Bird.
“She was the biggest out of the herd,” he said.
The Bowmans aren’t the only long-standing family to come to the fair.
Dena Erwin of Jonesville has represented J&D Honeybees at the fair for almost 30 years.
She said she started the company with her husband when they happened upon two beehives when clearing land for their home.
Since then, she has sold beeswax goods, from Nativity sets to candles. She also sells flavored honey, including a cinnamon whipped variety.
“It spreads like butter,” she said.
For Kay Aube of Osseo, who sells country home decor and homemade candles, the fair is more than just business. Since she closed her Country Junction store in Allen two years ago, she said the fair has become the primary way for her to interact with customers.
“I see a lot of people and meet a lot of people,” she said.
As a 15-year veteran of the fair, she said this year’s crowds have made it successful so far.
“I’m doing really good,” she said.
Jeff Bruce of Hastings, who sells tasty treats like candied almonds and funnel cake, said it’s been a great year for food vendors.
“For the food people, we had an awesome year,” Bruce said. “Our sales are up from 2019, and maybe even 2018.”
He said that after a year away from the fair due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are anxious to get out.
“People are ready to shop. They have money,” he said. “They are ready to spend it at the fair.”
Bowman also said he has noticed a marked increase in fair traffic, especially on Sunday and Monday.
“Sunday was a huge day,” he said. “It was packed.”
Jean Stauffer and her husband of Angola, Indiana said this year’s fair has been very good. Jean, now 86, said she has been coming to the fair for more than 80 years.
“We came for old time’s sake,” she said. “I look for rings, and my husband looks for tractors.”
Despite the increase in guests at the fair, Aube said there are a lot of vendors missing this year.
“A lot didn’t come because of health reasons,” she said.
Bowman said he also noticed fewer vendors.
“They are really down in numbers,” he said.
Nevertheless, Aube said she hopes next year some of these vendors will come back again.
“We’ll work on it,” she said. “Next year I hope this whole fair will be full again.”