The History of Fairs, Festivals and Events

Fairs, festivals and community events are a very important part of life in the Heartland of America. They have been since settlers started populating the region more than 150 years ago. Fairs and events give residents a chance to gather together and celebrate. Fairs were started to allow rural citizens a chance to show off the results of their hard work from the past year and to compete with their neighbors. They were also a chance to socialize during a time when many people lived much of their lives isolated from most of civilization, and a chance to see some of the latest advances in technology. Many people looked forward to the fair all year.

The first county fairs in the region were held approximately 140 years ago. Territorial fairs, the forerunners to state fairs, were held in the middle 1880s in both the northern and southern parts of Dakota Territory. Both states held state fairs during their first year in existence in 1890. Fairs are truly part of the fabric of life in the Dakotas and the surrounding region.

The Start of Associations of Member Fairs

Fair organizers realized many years ago that working together to share information and learn from each other was an important way to improve their events. Associations of member fairs were started in both North and South Dakota, along with surrounding states. Annual meetings and conventions brought people together from all over the state to share ideas, learn from experts, and find ways to improve the industry for everyone. In later years, the North Dakota and South Dakota associations started working together to put on the Dakota Fairs Convention. This allowed them to increase attendance and bring in better education. The states took turns hosting the event, with North Dakota putting on the event in even years and South Dakota putting on the event in odd years.

The Beginning of HAFFE

The Heartland Association of Fairs, Festivals and Events (HAFFE) was founded in 2019. HAFFE began as a merging of the North and South Dakota fair associations, with a goal of becoming a regional association. ANY fair, festival, event, or individual from the Dakotas or the surrounding region is eligible for membership, with associate membership open to any appropriate support business or organization.

The purpose of HAFFE is to provide support for sharing information, ideas, methods, practices, and regulations. These factors can all affect management of, and contribute to, the unique requirements of fairs, festivals, and events. We will accomplish this through hosting of an annual convention, newsletters, correspondence, and openly sharing ideas across a wide range of support services. The goal is to help members maintain or improve their events as the industry and society continues to change.

HAFFE Board Members


We pay tribute to those who have given much to the fair industries in North and South Dakota.  Below you will find those were honored by the respective North and South Dakota Fair Associations prior to merging to form the Heartland Association of Fairs, Festivals and Events.

Event Person of the Year

Past Award Winners

Associate of the Year

Past Award Winners

Hall of Fame

Past Award Winners

IAFE Heritage Award Winners

Brian Carlson

Neil Fleming -  Pembina County and North Dakota State Fair

Edwin Schmidt - McLean County Fair

Charles 'Chuck' Meikle - Stutsman County Fair and North Dakota State Fair

Virtual Education Series

The Inaugural Heartland Association of Fairs, Festivals & Events Convention to be held in-person November 2020 was canceled. The Board of Directors put together an educational series meeting monthly as an alternative value to our members. Follow the link to learn more about the educational series.

Learn More


Any fair, festival, event, associate or individual may become a member of the Heartland Association of Fairs, Festivals and Events! Members will be listed in the membership directory that will be handed out at our annual convention, as well as displayed on our website, allowing for additional exposure to help reach individual goals. Members will also receive a wealth of information that will help in generating new ideas to enhance future events. We invite you to apply for HAFFE membership, as well as view information on our current members.

HAFFE Membership