For the fifth time, the Marin County Fair has earned the most prestigious and coveted award by the Western Fairs Association (WFA), solidifying the popular local event’s national reputation for excellence.
The fair, featuring the theme On With The Show!, captured the Merrill Award at 53rd Annual Achievement Awards Program for its Healthy Fair Initiative, a collaboration between the fair, Marin County Health and Human Services (HHS) and Kaiser Permanente. The fair won 35 individual achievement awards as well, more than any other fair.
The Merrill Award, named in honor of WFA founder Louis Merrill, is given to fairs that clearly demonstrate innovation, vision and excellence. The Marin County Fair and Play Fair Marin have partnered for 14 years to build and maintain a healthy and successful fair as well as create a resource guide for ongoing and future success called Growing Healthy Events is Healthy Business. The architects of the guide were Dr. Rocio Hernandez of Marin HHS and Theresa Rockas of Kaiser Permanente.
The Marin County Fair received the awards during the WFA convention in Anaheim January 5. The WFA, a 150-member trade association representing fairs in the western United States and Canada, recognizes excellence in the fair industry at its convention and provides a forum for fairs to share successful ideas and programs.
The Growing Healthy initiative embodies the Play Fair definition “to act in a way that is right and just to our families, children and our community, building health, equity and social justice while having fun.” The Marin County Fair and its community partners boldly and creatively partnered to tackle increasing medical problems and worsening health trends such as obesity, alcohol abuse, and tobacco use in fun and culturally relevant ways.
The Marin County Fair also won the Featured Program Award for the partnership with SchoolsRule Marin and garnered 16 First Place awards including: Best New Innovative use of Technology for the Marin County Fair mobile application; Best New Children’s Program for the “POETree” and Marin County Free Library Hands-on Activities; and Best Event within an Event for the Blue Ribbon Stage Culinary Contests. Nine Second Place and nine Third Place awards were also received.
“We’re extremely proud that our fair won more First Place awards and more awards overall than any other fair in the entire competition,” said Fair Manager Charlie Barboni.
Gabriella C. Calicchio, the County’s Director of Cultural Services, said winning the Merrill Award helps the Marin team share its healthy strategies and findings with the entire industry.
“We should all strive to be healthy and green while at the same time celebrate our community and offer first-caliber everything from the arts, technology, facilities, learning, exhibits and unique programs found nowhere else in the nation.”
Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis called the fair “public health in action.”
“The fair reflects and reinforces the values of this community, condensed into a few days in the summer,” Willis said. “Play Fair represents that Marin pride in being thoughtful about promoting health and wellness for everyone.”
One of the innovations of Play Fair was the requirement that all food vendors offer at least one healthy option. One vendor approached Willis at the award ceremony surprised that the policy was supported by Marin’s fair leadership and that it ended up being profitable to vendors.
“Marin fairgoers valued being given a healthy choice,” Willis said, “and this is a lesson that can be carried far beyond Marin.”
Patricia Kendall, the Medical Group Administrator for Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Rafael, said much credit should go to the Merrill Award judges. “They’re the real heroes because they recognized that a fair can add healthy choices and keep the crowds coming back,” Kendall said. “Their nod to us and embracement of change will make a difference across the country. We have a chance to influence health, and how exciting is that?”
The 75th annual Marin County Fair, themed 75 Years – What a Ride! will be held June 30 through July 4, 2016. Visit www.marinfair.org for more information.