Today through June 19, more than 20 Future Farmers of America (FFA) from the Coastside will check in the large and small animals that they’ve raised over the past year and present them to a panel of judges at the 2011 San Mateo County Fair.
These FFA exhibitors apply for trophies, plaques and cash awards, and others are recommendations from club and project leaders, fair management and livestock personnel. There are also many special awards that the youth win with their animals. On June 18 the auction will be held and the market animals sold.
The FFA has more than 7,000 chapters and nearly a half-million members nationwide with the only chapter in the San Francisco Bay Area here in Half Moon Bay founded decades ago at the high school. Now, the FFA program continues to flourish.
“We have been very fortunate that the school district has worked closely with us over the years to help ensure that this program continues,” said Rich Giannini, a longtime member of the Ag Boosters, a group of parents and adults in the community interested in investing in local agriculture's leaders of tomorrow.
Any student enrolled in an agriculture class at Half Moon Bay High may participate in Ag Projects. This class is designed to encourage and support students raising livestock (or other agriculture projects) to show, whether it be at the county fair or other venues. Students must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and can earn up to 10 credits per semester. Large animals like horses, steers, goats, hogs and lambs earn students five credits each. Turkeys, chickens and rabbits are three credits for fall and spring semesters.
“Today with so much that the schools are getting hit with budget cuts and so on, we feel very strongly that agriculture gives students a wide variety of fields to go into,” said Giannini. “FFA also gives our students other avenues to see and branch out into such leadership being one of their noted objectives. It also allows the students to grow themselves in competitions such as parliamentary procedure, speaking engagements, project competitions, and so on. It is a way for students to look at what they want in life.”
In addition, each student must keep record books on their project, keeping track of costs and what they anticipate to receive from the auction. Documenting their progress helps with getting to the next level in FFA. The program has four degrees: Greenhand, Chapter Farmer, State Farmers, and American Farmer.
The students raise their steer, swine and horses in pens on the Ember Ridge horse ranch in Moss Beach, thanks to Carl Hoffman, owner of Half Moon Bay Feed and Fuel. He donated about $7,000 worth of equipment and labor a few years ago so that FFA students would be able to raise livestock for competition in the county fair.
2011 marks Half Moon Bay High School graduate Kelly Noland’s second year showing an animal at the County Fair. Last year it was a horse. This year it’s a 1,140 pound steer named Duke that she bought from a ranch in Napa for $900 last November.
Since then, Noland’s been getting up at 5:30 a.m. to feed Duke before school and evenings after school.
On a recent day, Noland walks over to the white steer, which is still wet from its bath, and considers blow-drying his coat instead of waiting until his hair air-dries.
“This experience really teaches you about commitment,” said Noland, who plans to attend Chico State this fall to major in animal science or agricultural education.
Going to fair with a buyer is important, she said, so one can negotiate prices and ultimately earn a profit on the investment. Noland has a buyer lined up and is hoping to sell Duke for $4 to $4.50 a pound.
Freshman Sarah Crosland, brushing her pig down in his pen, admits she definitely does not like the 6 a.m. feedings every day. But she has enjoyed “the process of raising an animal on my own,” she said, and is looking forward to the county fair.
Across from her pen, Terra Nova high school senior Emily Montoya, in her second year showing a large animal at the fair, loads hay and other supplies for tomorrow in the back of a pick-up truck. Montoya makes the drive from Pacifica every day and will show a black steer this year.
It’s a lot of hard work and dedication for these high school FFA students, many of them learning a thing or two about the business of agriculture, but Feed and Fuel manager Robin Camozzi helps them along the way.
“I help them find their animal and will go with a group out to the valley to do that,” said Camozzi. “I’m also out at the ranch, and they can call on me to help at the facility anytime. It’s a good program, and I enjoy it and the kids. I did this when I was at Half Moon Bay High with my sister and my daughters did it, too. It’s a way of life.”
All Market Animals will be sold at the Livestock Auction held on Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. at the San Mateo County Fair. Anyone interested in attending the Youth Livestock Auction is encouraged to call the Competitive Exhibits Department at 650-574-3247 x 360 for more information.