Elkhart Fair 2023
Okay y'all, I have a really fun story for you today! Since the summer season has come to a close, I thought I would tell you about one of the highlights of my summer this year: a trip to the Elkhart County Fair in Goshen, Indiana. I had recently received a phone call from Justin Bell at The Nut Shoppe in Goshen. He asked if I wanted to come to the Elkhart County Fair, where The Nut Shoppe would be vending Mami’s Gelato - THE DAY BEFORE THE FAIR! Of course I couldn’t pass up this opportunity, so the team and I got together and we made it happen (I’d like to give a special thanks to Phanor for covering my shift for me the following Friday so I could make this trip)! Justin suggested I arrive earlier in the day, since the fair gets pretty crowded in the evening, and Friday was supposed to be one of the busiest days of the fair season. I took his advice and arrived around 2pm. I was immediately struck by the scent of all the amazing fair food and even this early in the day there was already a substantial crowd. My first stop was The Nut Shoppe booth in one of the 3 (yes, 3!) large commercial buildings.
The Nut Shoppe is mainly a chocolate shop, but because of the limitations of the fair booth, having actual chocolates there just wasn’t practical (it was way too hot for that), so instead they were offering gelato and their amazing brittles. They were offering samples of both as a way to entice visitors to the booth, and then they would offer those visitors a coupon for a discount at their physical store in downtown Goshen. The gelato and the brittles were all of exceptional quality, so anyone who sampled either would know they could expect the same from The Nut Shoppe’s chocolates as well.
The gelato was PERFECT! They used Mami’s Almondice to make a non-dairy peanut butter gelato that was some of the best I’ve ever had! Another sweet treat he was offering was a gelato bar dipped in chocolate - he explained that it was not only a popular item in the shop, but they were also a great way to use any leftover gelato!
Justin and Danae had obviously put a lot of love into The Nut Shoppe booth. They had hand-made props and backgrounds for photos and the entire booth looked adorable and inviting.
They partner with local businesses as often as possible to source ingredients, which is an ideal that we also embrace here at Mami’s, and they’ve worked with a local roaster to make a non-dairy coffee flavor that was so good. And of course they knocked it out of the park with their non-dairy chocolate flavor - it has the intensity of a chocolate mousse and lingers on your palate after eating in the best possible way. I wish I had some right now to eat while writing this!Justin and his wife Danae have been very closely involved with the fair for several years - Danae grew up in Goshen and with the fair, and now their daughter carries on the tradition by raising animals and being involved in 4-H. If you are unfamiliar with 4-H, you should look it up some time; it’s a great program for kids in mostly rural areas that teaches life skills and hosts fairs all over the country.Justin was happy to share lots of other information about the Elkhart County fair with me. When he invited me, he casually mentioned that the Elkhart County Fair is one of the largest county fairs in the entire country! I used to go to the county fair where I grew up every year, so I had some idea of what I was walking into, but I had no idea of the scale of the thing. The layout was familiar - the entry gate, the midway, the commercial & animal buildings, etc., but there was just SO MUCH MORE of it!
The event runs for 9 days consecutively, and normally hosts more than 200,000 guests (imagine having that kind of traffic!). It is largely produced by volunteers, and they obviously take pride in what they do. One thing that stood out about this fair in comparison to many other similar events I’ve attended was the high level of cleanliness. Justin said that they have an entire group of volunteers whose sole job is to patrol the fairgrounds and keep the facilities sparkling clean, and it made a HUGE difference. It uplifted the entire atmosphere of the event and made it feel much more cheerful and welcoming than it would have been otherwise, and I’m sure this has a lot to do with its success. The fairgrounds cover 380 acres, including an RV campground that has a waiting list booked up to 10 years in advance! It’s obviously an important asset to the Goshen business community, so it makes sense that Justin and Danae would want to promote their business there!
After a quick tour of the fairgrounds, we went to meet Danae and Justin’s daughter at the dairy barn where she was showing the dairy calf she had raised this year, Oreo. He was SO cute!
Justin and his daughter then took me to the 4-H building at my request so I could check out all of the projects. I felt like I was transported back in time! Like a lot of other kids who grew up in rural Indiana, I spent several years in 4-H, and arts and crafts was my jam. There were so many adorable projects by talented young artists! I could have spent hours looking at them all, but unfortunately I only had one day, so I’m just going to share a few of my favorites.
It was time to move on to my next stop: the museum!
I’ve lived in Indiana my entire life and somehow never heard of the Elkhart County Fair, and I was excited to find out that they had an entire building dedicated to the history of the fair so I could learn more about it! The fair began in 1851, but because of a few years during which holding the fair wasn’t possible (such as in 2020 because of the Covid 19 pandemic), this year was the 150th event. The museum was filled with old posters and newspaper clippings from previous years events, along with a lot of 4-H memorabilia.
It was also air-conditioned which was a welcome respite from the heat. After cooling off a bit, I decided it was time to check out some of the other fair food.
Now, everyone knows that there are pretty much two reasons to go to the fair: the food and the midway, and this fair delivered spectacularly on both counts.
They had every offering you could imagine, and I’m sure it was all delicious, but I unfortunately had to tap out pretty early on because I had already eaten so much gelato & peanut brittle at Justin’s booth. I did make a valiant effort, though, as I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to eat fair food! I was especially impressed by a mango and lemon shake-up - I’d had lemon shake-ups before, but the addition of mango made it incredible!After I’d eaten my fill of fair food, I decided it was time to call it a day, and I headed back to The Nut Shoppe booth to thank Justin for his time and for introducing me to the Elkhart County fair. Things were starting to pick up, and he was busy scooping gelato and helping customers. At this point the fair was becoming quite crowded, and I had a long drive ahead of me, so I said my goodbyes.
I plan to go again next year - it was such an idyllic fair experience, and the added bonus of the Nut Shoppe’s treats make it especially worth the drive! Thank you so much to Justin and Danae for their hospitality, and I hope you all had a great summer!
Photo Credit: Amy Fender