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Agricultural students make long-awaited return to Santa Barbara County Fair

Nipomo FFA
Nipomo High School FFA student Alexis Acosta walks her pig out of a pen Monday afternoon at the Santa Barbara County Fair. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- After a three-year absence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, local agricultural students have made their long-awaited return to the Santa Barbara County Fair.

On Monday, hundreds of students from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, along with their animals, filled the livestock area at the Santa Maria Fairpark.

"We're all excited to be back and have fun with it," said Nipomo FFA senior Alexis Acosta. "I walked into the gate this morning and it was hard for me to not get excited. I walked in with a big old smile on my face. You hear people with their animals. You see people walking around and it's so much fun!"

It marked the first time since July 2019 students were on the grounds participating during an in-person fair.

"It feels really good," said Elijah Olivas. "We haven't done this in a little bit, so it is fun to be here. I missed seeing all the pigs and the barn smell. It's a lot of work definitely. It's a hassle to get up every morning and to be here, be here all day with the animals, but at the end of the day, it's pretty fun and it's worth it."

The pandemic forced the 2020 and 2021 livestock show and auction into modified virtual formats.

"It means a lot for everyone in our ag district," said Santa Maria Fairpark board member Randy Jones. "The kids get a chance to come back and show their animals and have a project. It's going to be a smaller number of livestock animals than we've had in the past, so you really have the more serious kids who enjoy the projects and the families that are really committed and involved."

Now, with COVID-19 restrictions lifted, the show and auction is being held in its traditional format all week long.

On Monday, all students had their animals weighed. Tuesday will mark the beginning of the marketplace show for swine, sheep, goats and other small animals, while the beef showmanship will start later in the week.

"It's really exciting," said Megan Jones with Nipomo Foothill 4-H. "I love all the animals here and it's pretty fun. I'm looking forward to setting up my animal and showmanship. It's in a couple of days and hopefully I'll do well."

While COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the pandemic is still impacting the fair. The number of entries has taken a hit.

According to numbers provided by the Fairpark, there are 625 animals entered in the show and auction this year, well off of previous years.

"Nothing can replace being in person and the skills kids learn by being here with these experiences with their projects, whether it's animal-related or ag mechanics-related," said Gabriel Ponce, Pioneer Valley High School FFA advisor. "You can't replace the feel of being in person. We can simulate it virtually and have those small experiences, but being in person so the kids can see it and live it, hopefully builds energy to continue to grow it back to where it was."

The livestock show and auction culminates with the auction, which is scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

"The money that is generated that goes to these kids helps them pay for their project and hopefully helps them put a little in their pocket that they save for college, or for whatever their needs might be," said Randy Jones. "But most of the time, we're hoping the kids save their money for college and to further their education."

The Santa Barbara County fair will officially open to the public this Wednesday. The fair will run from July 13-17.

Article Topic Follows: Agriculture
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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

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