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Why your steak sandwich at the fair is so thin



Anyone who has gone to the supermarket and bought beef, or any other animal protein, knows that meat prices continue to be crippling. There’s an awful perception, however, with many outside the ag sector that farmers are to be blamed. Well, as a guy who is pretty well connected with farmers, and who keeps a pretty close eye on all news, I will tell you that there is a bad guy in the food chain, but it’s not the farmers and ranchers. It’s the middlemen. That’s why cattle farms and cattle herds are in decline in America right now. The producers are making less money than ever, especially when you consider inflation on all their inputs like fertilizer — you can’t produce lush hay fields and pastures, if you don’t feed them, too. But the middlemen have gotten so greedy these days, they are making farmers and ranchers a dying breed. Everyone has got to get their cut when there’s money to be made, and the Meade County Fair Board isn’t much different.

We all love to go support local nonprofits, especially our youth-based ones, at the Meade County Fair. Eating is life, overeating has become an American right, and overindulgence is just a given when you go to the county fair, right? I mean, it’s in the name of the kids, after all. Steak sandwiches, porkburgers, fish sandwiches, funnel cakes and fried Oreos are just a must. To be honest, there are some people that only go to the fair for the fair food. And trust me, I’m not judging them because I love it, too. We all know where food alley is at the fair for a reason.

The food booths have been struggling to keep their products’ cost stable over the last several years because their costs have soared! Take the FFA fish booth for example. Pre-COVID, they were getting a box of fish for $40. Last year, their cost went up to about $60 a box. This year, their input costs continued to soar to over $80 a box. And don’t even get me started on the cost of oil for them to fill their fryers (and it is important that I point out that it is the FFA’s fryers for a reason I will point out later).

I won’t bore you going through the ridiculous increase in inputs that the rest of the food booths are also feeling. Whether it be steak and charcoal, pork for burgers and chops, etc., they are all feeling the crunch. There is also another cost that these nonprofits must overcome – the fair board’s booth rental fee.Now, it probably isn’t surprising that they charge a booth rental fee. Nothing is free in this world, especially at the fair. What may be surprising is just how much they charge these nonprofits for a week. There is no set price, though. Instead, the fair examines each organizations sales from prior years and then decides how much of that profit should be the Meade County Fair’s. The more successful you are, the more you have to pay. So, on top of having to clean, paint and provide the needed cooking equipment (fryers, grills, etc..), the nonprofit groups also have to fork over some serious dough just to have a spot. Some are paying in the $1,500 range since COVID knocked their averages down, while others like the steak booth, are paying $3,000. Then there is another hidden cost because the volunteer workers still have to pay $12 gate admission, and many of the nonprofits reimburse their workers. Therefore, if your booth needs... say 12 workers a night, at $12 a person, times six days, then your nonprofit is looking at close to another $1,000 a week in costs just to get them in the gate.

The moral of the story is this: When you get upset about the lack of quantity and elevated price of your fair food this year, don’t get mad at the food booths. Get mad at the middlemen. Even with perfect weather, those booths don’t start seeing profit until the final night of the fair. The other five days, they are just working for free so they can pay off the supplier, the fair board and hopefully make ends meet.