DES MOINES – The barns were a bit less full and the crowds were substantially smaller than normal, but there were livestock shows in the barns during state fair week, just like always.

The difference this time around was that there was no fair once you stepped outside the barns.

“Without the people there and the rest of the fair, it’s kind of weird,” said Marshall Meyer, a 17-year-old from Williamsburg who showed a champion dorset ewe in the FFA sheep show.

“From a showing standpoint it’s about the same,” Meyer said. “In a way it’s kind of nice without the crowd.”

That sentiment was echoed by some other teenagers who took part in the FFA shows during the first of three weeks of state fair youth livestock events on Aug. 7.

“It’s definitely different this year,” said Carla Edleman, 18, of Cambridge. “I’m just glad we could have the show.”

This was the first state fair showing experience for Julian Bacon of Knoxville. As she prepared her sheep for the ring, she was too busy to care about the activity – or lack of activity – outside the barns.

For some of the competitors, the change was not a bad one. They didn’t have to deal with fair traffic or with long lines and difficult logistics. The barns weren’t as jammed with people and the smaller crowds meant they had more space and more opportunities to concentrate on the show or to talk to their friends after showing, instead of dealing with an urban public.

For others, the inability to go experience the rest of the fair after their show was finished was a disappointment. There were few foods on a stick. There were no carnival rides. There were no commercial displays or free give-aways. There weren’t even food shows or old-time fiddler contests or farm equipment displays.

Even inside the barns, the difference was obvious. Hand sanitizer stations were in the barns. State fair workers and a few of the other people watching the show wore face masks, although most competitors and judges did not. While there were some food stands and trucks there to serve the small crowd, most of the food stands were closed.

In other words, it was a microcosm of the year. It was the closest thing to a state fair to be found in 2020.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.