Days are warm, school is out, summer break is upon us, and it’s fair season. Fairs are happening all over the country, and here in Sonoma County we are not short of the opportunity to experience a slice of Americana.
We are fortunate to have four “traditional” fairs that support our youth and entertain our communities. Three of our fairs have already happened; Cloverdale Citrus Fair, Healdsburg Future Farmers Country Fair, and the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma. To end the season, the Sonoma County Fair is August 2-12. We also can’t forget one of the hometown favorites, our Gravenstein Apple Fair, August 11-12. It may not have hundreds of pigs, sheep and cows; but this Sebastopol-based event celebrates and promotes an important part of Sonoma County’s agriculture heritage.
Just like the build-up we all experience around the holidays, you can feel the excitement and anticipation all around our hometowns as our locals prepare their exhibits for the Fair. The folks at Western Farm Center and our other local feed supply stores stock up on show sticks, brushes, and buckets. Shopping at one of these establishments during this time of year is like going to a family reunion. You are bound to run into someone you know and throughout the aisles you can hear customers talking to one another about weight gain (animals, not human), show days, and RV spaces.
I love Fairs. Fairs are where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. Memories are made, awards are won, and lessons are learned. In my opinion, the experience offered our local youth through the exhibits program provides an unmatched growth opportunity for the students. The responsibility that comes with raising an animal or even crafting a woodworking project builds self-esteem and leadership skills that cannot be duplicated in other youth programs.
Have you ever considered how many kids are able go to college because of the generosity of the buyers who support the Junior Livestock Auctions? As a fair junkie, annually I make it to as least a dozen fairs all over the country. And with few exceptions, the heart of the Fair is its junior livestock program that usually culminates with an auction. In California alone, I would guess that through the generosity of many people like yourself, well over $50 million dollars is raised yearly for our agriculture students in 4-H, FFA, and Grange. I wonder how many other scholarship programs in our state can boost that level of support?
There are so many great outcomes that result from our local Fairs, but the one that I hold dearest to my heart is the lifelong friendships that are made. For those of you who show, or who have shown at the fairs, just think about how many friendships you’ve established from the old days of hanging out in the barns. It is not uncommon to watch fierce competition in the showring between exhibitors, only to see those same exhibitors a few minutes later lending a hand to one another to carry a sack of grain or catch a loose animal. And, at the end of the show day, you will find kids from different FFA chapters or 4-H clubs who just competed against one another sitting on a tack box, listening to music, and enjoying each other’s company. It’s a comradery that comes from appreciating the hard work, dedication, and passion for agriculture that is shared by the exhibitors.
So, I encourage you to take some time to visit the Sonoma County Fair and during that visit, take a stroll through the barns and talk to one of our youth livestock exhibitors. I guarantee you will be impressed by what they have to say. And, if you have a little extra jingle in your pocket, or if your company wants to support our youth, become an auction buyer. Your support will most likely help a student make it to college and be an investment in the future of Sonoma County agriculture.