Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announces grant opportunities for county fairs

OSCEOLA AND MECOSTA COUNTIES – Each year, thousands of people flood and Osceola and Mecosta counties for the annual county fairs. In the midst of all this traffic, fair boards strive to maintain buildings and facilities that are serviceable. In order to help fairs statewide, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has announced a funding opportunity through two grants.

“County fairs are a really great way for people to connect with each other while connecting with our roots as an agricultural-based state,” said Jennifer Holton, director of communications at Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “They also provide educational opportunities for our state’s youth, so it’s important to keep these kinds of events going.”

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Jamie Clover Adams announced a new competitive grant opportunity for Michigan’s county fairs last week to make building and other capital improvements to their fairground facilities. Grants also are available for associations or other organized events hosting fairs or expositions showing livestock and commodities. Both grant proposals must be received by the MDARD no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014.

“We don’t have a total number of grants we aim to give out each year, but we have a dollar amount available,” Holton said. “On average, we give out a total of 21 grants each year.”

The capital improvement program provides additional funds for county fair officials to help make needed improvements to their fairground facilities, such as structural improvements or other building renovations. The total funds available for this program is $320,000.

Board members of the Osceola County 4-H FFA are not sure if they will apply for grants this year, but did apply last year without success.

Last year, the board repaired the roof to the dairy farm out of its general fund. If they do apply this year for a capital improvement grant, they hope to secure funds to repair even more of the roofs at the fairgrounds.

“The roofs always need to be upgraded or replaced,” said Cheryl Sherman, Osceola County Fair office manager. “We just want to make the buildings a better exhibit for the kids. With smaller fairs like ours, these grants really help us out.”

In Mecosta County, the grants are needed to construct new facilities.

“We’ve put in for a grant the past two years,” said John Currie, the manager of the Mecosta County Agricultural Free Fair. “This year we’re hoping to be awarded a grant from the capital improvement program. We asked for funds for new bathroom showers, which we really need.”

The shows and expositions grant provides financial support for awards in the form of prizes or promotional activities of the livestock and commodity expositions. It awards a total of $50,000 to county, regional and local fairs or livestock and commodity expositions that have a 501(c)3 or 501(c)5 status. Currie said the Mecosta County Agricultural Free Fair board did not apply for that grant because it is usually awarded to bigger shows that have dairy and beef cattle showings.

“Our fair usually deals with 4-H livestock, so that doesn’t really work for us,” Currie said. “They usually award that grant to the bigger fairs downstate.”

The submitted grants will go through a competitive grant process and be reviewed by an evaluation committee. In a time where budget cuts are prevalent, funds are needed now more than ever. A grant that once awarded up to $16,000 each year to applicants through matched funds got cut in 2008 and now only a few fairs each year receive financial support, Currie said.

“We just need the funds to maintain our buildings,” he added. “The bathrooms desperately need improvements.”

Eligible applicants include fairs that are incorporated under Act 80 of 1855 or county owned and operated fairs operating under Act 11 of 1929 and that have submitted all required year-end reports for the prior two years. Recipients of the grants will be announced in January and February 2015.

For for more information, visit michigan.gov/mdard  or contact Cinda Karlik at karlikc@michigan.gov or (517) 284-5723.