County fairs feature Ferris wheels and food, but many also have the main purpose of educating hundreds of youngsters about agriculture and livestock through programs such as 4-H and the Future Farmers of America.
In Southern California, fairgrounds usually have a large livestock area where students and club members will auction animals to the highest bidders. Fairs such as the SBC Fair in San Bernardino County, San Diego County Fair and OC Fair tend to label agricultural education as their primary purpose.
But fairs in counties that are in mostly urban are facing new challenges finding sponsors.
Evy Young, the agriculture education supervisor at the OC Fair, says things have changed over the years. “The Orange County Fair is the second-largest fair in the state and a goat might sell for $2.25 a pound here, while at the Ventura County Fair the market could be three times that.”
Why such a big difference? While Orange County still has a consistent number of students raising livestock, the programs supporters have dwindled. “People just dont realize that great meat, raised by hand and meticulously cared for, is available to them here,” Young said.
While prices at auction might be down, the cost of raising livestock is increasing. “Weve seen a decline in the pricier types of livestock such as beef,” Young said. “The price of feed and time it takes to bring cattle to market has resulted in fewer entries over time. Steers are the priciest animals to purchase through auction, so a 1,200-pound steer, at an average price of $2.25 per pound, could cost $2,700 just for the sale (approximately $3,800 including transport or cut/wrap costs).”
In 1993, the OC Fair had 130 beef entries. By 2017 the number had dropped to 55.
Agricultural programs in urban areas are going strong, but they might be auctioning a lot more hogs and goats than beef in years to come.
Some differences between the FFA and 4-H:[hhmc]
California FFA members[hhmc]
Membership in the FFA has kept up with Californias growing population, nearly tripling since the 1980s. The biggest gains have been in the central and San Joaquin regions, which are mostly rural, agricultural areas.
Ag in an urban area[hhmc]
The OC Fair has grown to be the second-largest fair in the state, but at the same time, livestock entries have declined. Here is the total livestock market – all 4-H and FFA beef, sheep, swine and goats – shown at the fair by year, according to fair officials:
Wheres the beef?[hhmc]
Space, time to get to market and feed price are all factors in raising livestock. Cattle require much more effort to transport and tend to than other types of livestock. As this informatioin from the fair shows, beef entrieshave been declining.