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Santa Barbara County Fair highlights the area's agricultural past and present

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Ashley Rusch
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Carnival rides attracted thousands to the Santa Maria Fairpark.

Santa Barbara’s annual county fair returned this year after two years of pandemic delays. The theme this year was a “Salute to Agriculture,” highlighting Santa Barbara County’s rural and agricultural past and present.

“What we saw in this two year hiatus was how important agriculture is to our community, even to our survival,said Rebecca Parks, Santa Maria Fairpark Public Relations Coordinator.

“When that food chain is disturbed, like it was, we really see a drastic change.”

The Santa Barbara County Fair hosts a junior livestock program each year. Elementary through high schoolers spend months raising livestock before putting them up for sale at the fair.

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Ashley Rusch
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“Cook’s Pig Races” draws a crowd near the Plaza Entrance of the fair.

The County Fair shifted to virtual auctions in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic. Those events were on a much smaller scale – down from roughly $2 million to $200,000.

“We’ve only ever not been a fair for two things: World War II and COVID. So it's a pretty big thing that we shut down and shut down for the amount of time we did. We have lower numbers across the board, but it's still at full capacity which is really exciting for us,” Barks said.

This year, nearly 600 elementary through high school students from across Santa Barbara county participated in the junior livestock auction. Most of them join through agricultural programs at local high schools, known as 4-H and FFA – or Future Farmers of America.

17-year old Sadie Veino has been showing hogs at the fair for the past 9 years.

“When COVID hit, I got insanely more competitive so I started to do jackpot shows all across the state of California and the Western United States. And I’ve just done good ever since then, and I want to keep doing it,” Veino said.

Veino is a senior at Nipomo High School, which has run an FFA program for the last 20 years. Nipomo students were easily spotted at the fair, sporting navy blue jackets with gold lettering and an FFA seal on the back.

This year, she took Nipomo junior Anthony Zelis under her wing, who showed a pig for the first time.

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Christina McDermott
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Kevin the prize-winning steer at the Santa Maria Fairpark on July 16

“I’ve had an amazing coach. I had a great time. I took [my pig] to one jackpot show and he didn't do so well then, so it kind of inspired me to try and do better and he actually won his class. I'd say a lot of your time that you put into it really, really helped,” Zelis said.

Kylie Clement is the president of Cinco Campanas 4-H, a Youth Development Program in Santa Maria. This is the 17-year-old’s last year showing at the fair.

“There’s definitely a lot less people. It’s more calm, it’s definitely what I think fair should be. We are working together. There’s a lot more community,” Clement said.

This year’s agricultural theme was especially meaningful to Clement, she says.

“I come from an agriculture family and for me, that meant dedicating this year to my grandfather, who was an agriculture teacher at Righetti and Lompoc High Schools. His name was Del Clement and he definitely left a lot for me to look up to,” Clement said.

For 17-year old Jasmine Olivera, placing second with her lamb Bay was a big accomplishment since this was her first year showing.

“I think the fair is a great way to get out of your shell because you meet so many people and although you spend the whole day here, you're always surrounded by your friends and I think that's what makes it so fun,” Olivera said.

However, not everyone supports the County Fair’s livestock auction. Outside the main entrance on Saturday afternoon, several protesters lined up with signs reading “4-H & FFA Abuse Kids & Animals.” That’s referring to the junior livestock program where students raise animals for sale.

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Ashley Rusch
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Jasmine Olivera poses with her lamb Bay, who placed third in competition.

Protestor Zoe Rosenberg founded Happy Hen Sanctuary in San Luis Obispo when she was just 11 years old. Rosenburg attends UC Berkeley and is also an organizer with Direct Action Everywhere, a grassroots animal rights network.

She takes issue with the fact that most livestock go to meat processing after the show.

“We believe that these programs are really desensitizing children to violence towards animals and teaching these children to exchange the lives of their animal friends for money. It’s just really not the lesson that we want kids to learn,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg said she appreciated the several fair goers who took the time to speak with her. She plans to organize a protest at California’s Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles this week.

In an email to KCBX News, CEO of the Santa Maria Fairpark Caitlin Miller said swine sold through the Junior Livestock Action were transported outside the county to Yosemite Foods for butchering, referred to as harvesting.

However, she said the meat was processed — which refers to cutting and wrapping — on the Central Coast at J&R Meats.

She called the county fairs “the most exciting and culminating period highlighting (kids’) earnest efforts at animal care and husbandry.”

This year's county fair ran from July 13-17, and more information is available here. More information about Happy Hen Sanctuary is available here.

Corrected: August 4, 2022 at 2:33 PM PDT
The web text has been updated to clarify that swine sold at this auction were sent outside the county to be slaughtered (harvested), but were processed (cut and wrapped) locally at J&R Meats.
Ashley Rusch is an intern at KCBX and the Internal News Director at KCSB-FM, UC Santa Barbara's radio station. During college, Ashley also worked as the Co-Editor-in-Chief of WORD Magazine. She graduated in June 2022 with a B.A. in Communication and minor in Journalism.
Christina is a freelance audio editor and producer. She began interning at KCBX in June of this year, after spending the spring volunteering for KCSB, UC Santa Barbara’s student news station. Christina completed bachelors’ degrees in English and linguistics at UC Berkeley, and a masters’ degree in Phonetics at the University of York. She’s passionate about producing evocative, sound-rich stories, and is excited to learn more about the world of radio. In her free time, Christina coaches swimming.