Flower Power: County Fair plant sale raises record funds


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Jul 05, 2023

Flower Power: County Fair plant sale raises record funds

The plant sale at the Columbia County Fair raised more than $60,000 this year. The 2023 Columbia County Fair and Rodeo has come and gone, but the proceeds from its annual plant sale will help support

The plant sale at the Columbia County Fair raised more than $60,000 this year.

The 2023 Columbia County Fair and Rodeo has come and gone, but the proceeds from its annual plant sale will help support the fair and fairgrounds for months to come.

The annual plant sale features a beautiful variety of flowers and plants grown by Means Nursery in Scappoose, and the proceeds go directly back into supporting the fair and its programs.

Plant sale at the fair

Debbie Ritthaler helps facilitate the plant sale, and this year, the plant sale raised $60,805. The plant sale was originally started in 2008, and Ritthaler said that this year was the most money the sale has ever raised. Ritthaler explained how and why Means Nursery began the sale.

“To help the youth and different programs in the fairgrounds,” Ritthaler said. “Gina and Jim Means had kids in the 4-H program, and so they wanted to find a way to help the fair and different programs at the fair, and so they came up with this idea, they’re the ones who own Means Nursery.”

Means Nursery supplies all of the flowers and plants for sale and specially grows and prices each of the items. Putting on the sale takes a lot of time and effort, and the sale has only expanded over the years.

“It is priced, sometimes half or even less what they charge in retail, and they bring it out, help us set it up, and sometimes even restock stuff for us,” Ritthaler said. “We have to get so many volunteers; now it’s turned into a two-week sale; it used to be a five-day sale. But when COVID hit, there was no fair in 2020, so we just did the plant sale, and it started this whole thing where we have the plant sale the week before, and then we continue it the week of fair.”

Ritthaler said that putting on the sale takes a lot of teamwork. Ritthaler works part-time at Means Nursery, but she said that when the plants arrive for sale, she doesn’t know what inventory she’ll have until the plants are rolling up on the truck.

This year there were four semi-trucks and two box trucks full of plants on donation day. Over the full two weeks, Ritthaler said there were about 40 volunteers between the fair and plant sale staff. To help unload the plants, Ritthaler said there were about 20 people there to help unload and set up.

When the sale starts, people flock to the sale to get their favorite items. The most popular item is usually the hanging baskets, which come at a major discount from the retail price.

“The first day of the sale, everyone and their mother comes out, and their grandmother and their grandfather; it’s crazy,” Ritthaler said. “Up until this year, the hanging baskets have always been $10, and that’s always been the big draw. This is the first year that they’ve had to raise the prices on the hanging baskets, but you know what? It didn’t slow them down one bit. We still sold every hanging basket we had out there, and we had hundreds!”

Ritthaler said that during the pandemic, the plant sale “exploded” in popularity. Ritthaler said that a lot of people found a passion for gardening as they were stuck at home, and the reasonable prices and supporting the fair are just more of a reason to support the fair.

Growth and generosity

The plant sale’s popularity has grown exponentially over the past couple of years, but so has the amount of money raised. Ritthaler said in the first year of the sale, they raised somewhere between $15-18,000. The more than $60,000 they raised this year is just another indicator of the sale’s popularity. While the sale is a fixture of the fair each year now, Ritthaler feels that Gina and Jim Means deserve recognition for their generous contribution.

“I just think the whole thing is amazing that they do this, and they’ve done it for so many years, and they never get the recognition,” Ritthaler said. “And I know they don’t do it for the recognition; that’s not at all why they wanted to do it, but I just think it’s amazing.”

When it started, the sale was intended to supplement premiums for 4-H members and open class participants. Shortly after the plan was set into motion, Means Nursery was informed the fair itself lacked the necessary funds to continue operations.

Wanting to support the fair, Means Nursery agreed to allow the Fair Board to use part of the funds for continued operations with the understanding that a portion would be utilized for premiums, fairground improvements, and open class supervisors.

The money raised will help update the pressing needs of the aging fairgrounds. Fair Board President Peggy Howell said there are key projects that need funding.

“At this time, there are 7 barns in need of new roofs, the bid a couple of years ago was $56K a roof, and we know the price has gone up since then,” Howell said. “There are many more repairs and improvements needed at our aging fairgrounds.”

Howell said the plant sale is the fair’s biggest fundraiser, and every penny is critical to improving the aging infrastructure at the fairground. Like Ritthaler, Howell sees Jim and Gina Means as unsung heroes for the fair.

“Means have just been so generous with their product and their people and their knowledge,” Howell said. “I don’t know that people know, or that they get enough praise, because they are pretty special.”

In addition to expressing appreciation for Jim and Gina and Means Nursery, Howell also said that the work Debbie Ritthaler and her husband Don do to make the plant sale a reality is also commendable.

“Debbie and her husband Don, the hours they put in, they’re just tireless; I can’t even believe it, how much they are able to do and keep on doing,” Howell said. “They’re the real heroes out there.”

While getting the sale prepped and ready to go is a massive undertaking, Ritthaler and Means Nursery do the work because they recognize the value the fair offers the community.

“I totally think it brings people together. It gives families something to do. I know it’s just during the summertime, but they get out, they see each other,” Ritthaler said. “It’s cool just to get to visit; it’s neat. It just brings them together.”

For information on donating to the Columbia County Fair and Rodeo, visit https://www.columbiacountyfairgrounds.com/p/get-involved/donations.

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