Family's Ties to Washington County Fair Run Deep

August 01, 2018 10:16 PM

In many ways, Kathy Erf and her family are as much a fixture around the Washington County Fairgrounds as the Ferris wheel or the cotton candy.

And that connection remains as strong today as ever.


"Between my siblings and I, and our families, there's around 40 of us," said Erf on Wednesday, the first day of this year's fair in Lake Elmo. "And the majority will be here this week."

Erf, whose maiden name is Eberhard, is at the fair as the principal office and administrative specialist for the Washington County 4-H program. Her older sister Ann is the 4-H program coordinator. Their oldest sister Connie and her husband Myron run the fair's malt booth, while older brother Bob usually attends the fair as well.

"This is the week we plan our whole year around," said Erf, who along with her husband David runs the family farm in Oakdale - a farm first established in 1919.

"I do double-duty here. Not only am I working for 4-H, but my kids are showing. So nothing interferes with this week on our schedule."

Erf and her husband took over the farm in 2002. It was a dairy farm for many years, though her parents ceased dairy operations there in 2000 as the city surrounded the now 15-acre operation.

"We're completely surrounded by houses now," Kathy said. "But our neighbors are great. We have a lot of people stopping in to see the animals.

"We've built up a pretty good rapport with them. Which is nice. Because occasionally we have an animal that gets loose."

David Erf works for an animal health company, so the family's livelihood is not tied to the farm. But, it would be understating things to label it a mere hobby.

"It's more of a passion," said David, who estimates he spends 30 to 35 hours a week or more raising and caring for the animals.

And for the couple's children, it's a way of life.

"My mom always says we get the best of both worlds," said Kelsey Erf, 17 and a senior-to-be at Stillwater High School.

"We have life on the farm. But we're close to the city so we get to experience that too."

Washington County Fair at a glance

Founded: 1871

Current location: Lake Elmo

Yearly visitors: Around 50,000 over five days

Fairground size: Around 140 acres

Daily admission: 16-and-over - $7; Ages 6-15 - $4; Ages 5-and-under - free

Like their parents, all four Erf siblings got involved in 4-H at an early age. And they have all been coming to the fair since before they can remember.

"I actually met my best friend here," said Kelsey, who is showing five animals this week, and who has qualified to show at the State Fair six years running.

"She was showing at a different farm, but it was sold. Now she leases animals from us. It's just really cool to come back here every year. It's a real community."

"I've been coming here my whole life," added her sister Mikayla, who attends the University of Minnesota and is in her final year showing in 4-H.

"It's just a fun place to be. And it's great to be able to show off the hard work we put in all year on the farm."

Families like the Erfs represent the kind of tradition longtime fair manager Dorie Ostertag said county fairs serve to maintain.

"That's what we try to keep alive," said Ostertag, who first got involved with the fair in 1994. "Those families that keep coming back for generations." 

Kathy Erf can't imagine her family's ties to the fair diminishing anytime soon.

"It's a tradition for us," she said. "It's what we do."


Frank Rajkowski

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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