With the majority of fairs on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, small food vendors that make their living on the fair circuit are struggling, according to Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Randy Romanski.

Romanski said DATCP’s Division of Food and Recreational Safety has been doing “pretty robust” business, with more than 90% of the businesses they license in the state seeking renewals.

Of the businesses not seeking renewals or changing their license to “out of business” status for this year, many of that 10% have come from temporary establishments like those operating at fairs, Romanski said July 9 during a conference call with agriculture media.

“As we know, a lot of fairs have canceled for this year, and some of those temporary restaurants can’t afford the fee with no income,” he said. “The thing I look forward to — and I bet people associated with all those county fairs are looking forward to — is turning the page, getting to 2021 and having the experiences of the fairs available again once we all get through COVID-19.”

The Food and Recreational Safety Division regulates the entire food chain, from the agricultural producer to the consumer. The division licenses and inspects nearly 24,000 food, lodging, and recreation establishments and more than 3,000 food processing and storage facilities.

That the division has remained busy despite the coronavirus pandemic is a good sign, Romanski said.

“What that shows is agriculture and food processing have never stopped operating during the pandemic,” Romanski said. “Our agency has worked to find creative ways to continue serving as a resource to the industries that we serve.”

COVID-19 funding

Food banks and pantries can apply for COVID-19 Food Security Network Support grants until 5 p.m. on July 22.

On July 2, DATCP released a request for proposals for an estimated $5 million in grants to help with costs incurred by food banks and pantries related to COVID-19. Applications are available at foodsecurity.wi.gov. Grant funds will be awarded for costs that are related to COVID-19 and are incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30.

Gov. Tony Evers in May announced the $15-million Food Security Initiative to combat hunger in Wisconsin. The funding for that also came through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Romanski said about $5 million of that will go to food banks to help them adapt how they operate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining $10 million will be used to try to connect Wisconsin food to the food insecure.

A request for proposals for the second round of grants, the Food Security in Wisconsin Products, will be released later in July and will focus on helping the food security network strengthen partnerships to bring Wisconsin agricultural products to Wisconsin residents in need.