Even though I was raised on a cattle ranch, I always thought about carnival rides and deep-fried food when anyone mentioned the county fair. Then I met Austin Campbell, my now husband, who asked me to the Santa Barbara County Fair when we first started dating. “How quaint,” I thought to myself, and, sure enough, as we arrived, I spotted the Ferris wheel and caught some telltale whiffs of funnel cake.
But that all quickly disappeared when Austin made a sharp turn into a big barn. As my eyes adjusted from bright summer sun to dim dusty barn, I quickly realized that this was the real fair.
In the barn arena, there were children dressed in white, sporting either blue jackets — I learned they’re with Future Farmers of America (ffa.org) — or bright green neck scarves with matching hats if they were with 4-H, which, I also learned, stands for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health (4-H.org). The county fair is the most exciting time of the year for all of these kids who’ve worked for months raising, showing, and marketing their animals.
For this year’s fair, my neighbors and longtime farmers, the Pata family, are sending three dedicated Lompoc Valley Chapter 4-H members to the show: Anna, 14 years old; Adam, 11; and Claire, 8. Anna and Adam will both be showing pigs at the fair, while Claire, who is still too young to sell animals, is entering her duck named Ducky Mo Mo.
To get involved, the first step is joining your area’s chapter of Future Farmers of America (FFA) or 4-H, signing up for your animal of your choice, and then buying your animal. “Our first year, we got a loan from our dad,” explained Anna, to which Claire added, “And Mom made sure they paid him back!” Next is raising the animal to market weight, and then it’s fair time.
Raising an animal is a huge commitment, but that’s the point: teaching children, through agriculture, to understand the importance of hard work and dedication. Both FFA and 4-H also offer year-round programs, as well, including leadership classes, youth mentoring, and school enrichment.
It also teaches kids that hard work pays off, too. “My favorite part is getting paid,” said Adam with a boyish grin, explaining that last year he bought a surfboard with some of his 4-H savings. If that doesn’t show dedication, I’m not sure what does.
The Santa Barbara County Fair runs Wednesday-Sunday, July 13-17, in Santa Maria. See santamariafairpark.com.