By Bob Zientara
If she’d won the Wisconsin Fairest of the Fair contest, Brooke Shatley’s life would have changed. A lot.
Shatley, 22, was the second-place finisher at the Jan. 8-11, 2023, Wisconsin Association of Fairs convention at Chula Vista Resort, Wisconsin Dells.
The winner was Sharlene Swedlund, 22, of Green County, who studies manufacturing engineering at Blackhawk Technical College and works at Kuhn North America.
On Tuesday, Jan. 17, Shatley said that the runner-up finish will allow her to complete a busy year as Barron County’s Fairest of the Fair, a title she’ll turn over to the next winner this coming July.
The daughter of Jason and Melissa Shatley of Prairie Farm, Brooke is pursuing a degree in family and consumer science at the University of Wisconsin Stout, Menomonie. She expects to graduate in fall 2024.
Her official bio said Shatley’s “ambition is to teach kids how to live a successful life with the knowledge of how to cook healthy meals on a budget, be financially stable, and how to take care of themselves.”
“I was studying nursing before COVID hit, and then I changed my major,” she said. “I’m commuting to class from home.”
It takes Shatley 45 minutes to get to and from school.
“Luckily, I’ve got a four-wheel drive vehicle,” she said.
As Barron County’s Fairest of the Fair, Shatley will finish her year attending parades, serving at the June (2023) Dairy Breakfast, and, one of her favorite activities, teaching what’s called a “Farm to Fork” class at area elementary schools.
She’ll spread the word about how food shows up in people’s shopping carts, kitchens and refrigerators. And she’ll be encouraging kids to learn more about livestock production -- a major feature of the Barron County Fair.
Even as recently as when she was growing up, Shatley said her school classmates were mainly farm kids.
“But fewer people know about farms now,” she said. “I think it’s very important that the (ones) who haven’t been exposed to farm life learn more about it.”
Shatley’s said her Farm to Fork classes help reinforce the educational programs run by the Barron and Prairie Farm FFA chapters, which offer similar classes each fall at the Larry Jerome farm just north of Barron.
She said she’s been encouraged by the large number of Barron County youth who continue to buy, raise and show livestock at the County Fair each summer.
“It’s cool because our fair is so competitive,” Shatley said. The popularity of the program “is taking our beef project to the next level. And that’s true of the sheep, swine” and smaller animals, too, she added.
It’s also encouraging to see the large number of youngsters in the 4-H programs, which, in some cases, have even higher participation levels than FFA, Shatley added.
To her, knowing that many younger kids are learning about agriculture is “like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
The Fairest of the Fair program was created 57 years ago to select an ambassador for the Wisconsin Association of Fairs, which represents 75 county, district, and state fairs in Wisconsin.
According to Karen Rindsig, Barron County Fairest of the Fair coordinator, the state winner is chosen after a four-day selection process including individual and group interviews, written applications, on-stage “presence,” mock radio commercials and unrehearsed question-and-answer sessions at the annual banquet.
While interviews take place, guest presenters meet the young women and to talk about what the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection does for fairs, how the carnival industry works and how entertainment gets to the fairs.
There are additional workshops on etiquette for social events, dining, public speaking, communications and tips on how to be a leader for fairs and their local Fairest of the Fairs programs.