This year’s Umatilla County Fair features new faces and new places, but the flavors are familiar.
Local standbys like elephant ears from Umatilla High School and Lions Club burgers made the transition to the new fairgrounds.
“We’ve got the best burgers here,” Phil Hamm said as he worked a volunteer shift in the bright red Lions Club food trailer.
The mobile trailers for the nonprofits are new this year, provided by the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center to make up for the loss of the permanent structures at the old fairgrounds.
Hamm said they were a “great replacement” for the old buildings and the Lions Club was grateful for the accommodations.
Ruth Carollo, who was taking orders for ice cream at the Vange John Memorial Hospice food truck next door, said the nonprofit had no problem switching to their new digs.
“The old fairgrounds booth was bigger, but the nice thing about this is it’s air conditioned,” she said.
The one problem she did see was that the nonprofits, which were located along the wrought iron fence on the southern edge of the fairgrounds, were a little off the beaten path. Fewer people were stopping by, drawn in by the out-of-town food vendors they could see from the entrance. Carollo said she understood, though, that when the fair board was deciding where to put vendors they didn’t know for sure how the foot traffic would flow in the new location.
“It’s so hard to know,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll make adjustments.”
She said she enjoyed getting to see the new fairgrounds and thought the rodeo grounds in particular were “beautiful.”
“I think over time this will be a nice addition to Hermiston and the county,” she said.
The only nonprofit that decided they didn’t want to continue using the fair as a fundraiser was Hermiston Christian School.
Not everyone working at food booths at the fair was a volunteer for a nonprofit. Lined up along the grassy commons area were several local restaurants with the means to go mobile for the week. Elijah and Natalie Hernandez were busy serving up tacos, burritos and other Mexican food for Ruty’s Restaurant.
Natalie said it was the Hermiston business’s fourth year at the fair.
“The best reason to be here is it’s an advertisement,” she said. “You get to meet more people.”
Elijah said business had been steady at their booth, especially after the rodeo got out on Wednesday night.
Junior Ortega was working a booth for 395 Quickstop, also of Hermiston, which featured everything from nachos to snow cones. If anyone at the fair felt in need of a little refreshment, he said, “we can help them out.” His only complaint about the first year in the new location was the hot weather, which he acknowledged was not something anyone could control.
Having employees come out and work the fair all week is busy, Ortega said, but worth it.
“It involves us with the community,” he said. “We see our local customers and gain new customers.”
Mixed in with the local restaurants are the usual out-of-town vendors like Piggly’s BBQ that make their money traveling from fair to fair in the summer selling favorite fair foods like curly fries, Navajo Tacos, kettle corn, fresh-squeezed lemonade and corn dogs.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.