Many Johnson County fair snacks do more than satisfy annual cravings.
Beaver tails raise money for scholarships. Lemon shake-ups help pay for transportation for local residents. And tenderloins benefit an Indianapolis children’s hospital.
More than a dozen local nonprofit organizations operate food booths at the fair each year. For many, the event is their main fundraiser, and the week’s proceeds will fund most or all of their operating expenses and activities.
But being at the fair is about more than money. The groups also educate the public about the organizations and promote volunteerism, officials said.
Helping those groups succeed is a priority for the fair, said Kyle Kasting, the fair board member in charge of concessions.
“It’s one of our missions,” he said. “If a nonprofit approaches, as with a Johnson County concession vendor, we try to make room because we want to have local people represented at the fair.”
For example, the rental fee paid by vendors for the week varies, with nonprofits paying a lower rate than commercial concessions, he said.
The Kiwanis Club of Franklin first set up a tent in the 1960s and later built a building that ultimately became property of the fairgrounds, member Jim Barnett said.
“In the early years we had to carry everything in,” he said. “Somebody had to sleep in the tent at night, and we had to scratch to get all of the food in freezers.”
The signature item at the Kiwanis building is the pork fritter tenderloin, and Barnett estimates the organization sells thousands during fair week.
“This is by far the biggest fundraiser we do,” he said. “The majority of our budget comes from this.”
He said the proceeds go to local youth organizations and Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
The sale of beaver tails, which are like elephant ears only with a texture more like a yeast doughnut, raises approximately $12,000 for the Center Grove Optimist Club, board member Don Good said. The money goes toward youth-
related causes, including college scholarships and Girl Scout and Boy Scout projects.
The fair is the only fundraiser for the Johnson County Beef Cattle Association, president Keegan Poe said. Funds raised are used to promote agricultural education in schools and 4-H programs.
“We get all our operating funds during these six days,” Poe said. “We sell more than 4,000 ribeyes and probably that many hamburgers, and we’ll end up with all the funds we need.”
Along with the money raised, the dining area also becomes a marketing platform for the group. Information about the nutritional qualities of beef and the causes the organization supports, such as college scholarships for 4-H members, is available.
Milkshakes are the sought-after goodie in the Johnson County Farm Bureau building, where information promoting the agriculture industry and Farm Bureau’s involvement is on display.
The Shrine Club has sold fish at the fair for more than 40 years and moved into a permanent building its members constructed five years ago. Proceeds from the week go to Shriners Children’s Hospitals and other causes for children, vice president Greg Cantwell said.
“We do some other things during the year, but this is the main thing,” Cantwell said.
A little farther south on the fairgrounds, Indian Creek FFA has a combined ice cream and pork chop tent. FFA members operate the old-fashioned machine producing vanilla ice cream, while Indian Creek parents prepare and serve pork chop dinners. Proceeds fund FFA activities and scholarships for Indian Creek students.
The ice cream machine in use at the Indian Creek FFA tent is the same one that was used when the program began raising money at the fair in 1972, said Joe Dunn, ag education teacher and FFA adviser at the school.
“We get a lot of alumni, who have worked at this tent in years gone by, commenting on the machine,” Dunn said. “They talk about it still being the best ice cream they’ve ever had. Everyone likes ice cream on a cool day.”
Whiteland’s FFA operates the ice concession at the fair. Students deliver $5 bags of ice to food vendors, campers and 4-H families all over the fairgrounds.
“We’ve given our number to all of them, and they will call and tell us how many bags of ice they want,” club secretary Sami Jo Hart said.
The group will deliver hundreds of bags of ice over the week, with more than 30 students volunteering. If they raise enough, they won’t need to do many other fundraisers during the year, Hart said.
“If we knock it out of the park, that’s less fundraisers that we have to do,” she said. “That’s a huge deal because nobody wants to pester everybody for money all the time.”
The money raised goes to help fund FFA activities such as conventions and contests.
People like the fact that the money they spend goes to help local organizations, said 4-H adviser Jeff Beaman, who supervises the Coke stand in the Indoor Arena operated by 4-H Junior Leaders.
“All of our business plans and meetings are funded off the Coke stand,” Beaman said. “We use that money for awards, donations, community-service projects, and I know people like that we are helping our own.”