Joe Hammontree (right), Community Nutrition Instructor with Shiawassee County MSU Extension, happily announced that the 4-H Foodstand at the Shiawassee County Fairgrounds on Hibbard Road will reopen for business during fair week. The Foodstand had shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic when fairground activities were suspended to keep the public safe.
“We didn’t know what all was going on at the time,” Hammontree offered about the 2020 closure. “We didn’t know how bad it was going to get, so we just said no, we’re not going to mess with it. For staff, it was very difficult, but we did what we had to. We moved 100-percent virtual. I teach for MSU and all of my classes went virtual. It was very difficult.”
In his position with MSU Extension, Hammontree partners with various area agencies, offering classes on nutrition and health to both youth and adults. He is also the longtime manager/organizer behind the popular 4-H Foodstand.
Hammontree explained that the 4-H Foodstand is an annual fundraiser for MSU Extension. With the Foodstand closed in 2020, some expenses still had to be dealt with including insurance and electricity, but the budget covered those costs.
All of the profit raised through the 4-H Foodstand goes directly back into the local 4-H program.
“It’s our only fundraiser throughout the year,” shared Hammontree. Aside from general overhead costs such as food, delivery and minimum pay offered to two grill cooks and a stipend for management, the proceeds support scholarships for low-income kids wanting to attend the summer camp program, even providing new backpacks, toiletries and water bottles – items they get to keep. Funding also supports percentages of other fun experiences such as trips to Chicago or the 4-H National Conference held every two years.
There are going to be a few changes, though. The 4-H Foodstand will only be open during fair week and not for horse shows or events outside of fair week.
Hammontree said he is working to adjust the traditional menu, which will be somewhat smaller. He is also adjusting scheduling to accommodate fewer volunteers, recognizing that not everyone might be comfortable volunteering this year. Volunteers are certainly needed, however. The 4-H Foodstand is a large, airy building, allowing staff and volunteers to work in dispersed zones. All windows in the building open, permitting continuous fresh air.
“We are rewriting schedules and rethinking how we do our food prep. We lost some vendors last year, so we are looking at all of our resources. We have a lot of organizational work that’s got to be done, but 2021 is looking better,” he said.
Because the 4-H Foodstand won’t be open during horse shows, Hammontree has to reconsider his inventory. “I can’t have too much leftover. We don’t want waste. We go through a ton of food fair week, though. People don’t realize just how much food we actually go through.”
The 4-H Foodstand is usually staffed by roughly 20 people per shift, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hammontree is hoping to reduce that down to 15 or less. Volunteers will still be honored with a free meal ticket for their service.
“We feed thousands in fair week,” he stated. “We go through like 5,000 menus in just a week and some menus go to families of five or seven people. Between indoor and outdoor seating, we can actually seat more people than most restaurants in Shiawassee County. People love the fact we have the outside decks. Those fill up pretty quick. We do have a fan outside that kind of keeps bees away, too. It’s quiet and peaceful out there.”
Only four dinner specials will be offered this year – a change from previous years. Specials will be available on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Hammontree said there are approximately 60 total 4-H groups in the Shiawassee County MSU Extension area, though not every club participates in the fair. “4-H isn’t just fair week,” he offered, referencing hundreds of project areas for various clubs.
“I don’t have kids of my own, but during fair week, I have 1,000 kids,” he explained. The 4-H Foodstand teaches customer service, food prep, counting change, teamwork and other important skills. “We aren’t just teaching how to make coleslaw. We’re teaching a life skill. Even in preparing recipes, it is mathematics, it is literacy.”
Individuals and organizations wanting to assist can call the MSU Extension office to sponsor a dinner. Not all volunteers must be involved in a 4-H group, though there are specific safety rules in place. Currently, Hammontree is seeking new grill cooks for breakfast and lunch – either experienced or willing to train. He is particularly interested in people who can stay organized.
The Shiawassee County MSU Extension Office is located at 149 E. Corunna Avenue. For more information, call (989) 743-2251.