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4-H kids won thousands at Treasure Valley fairs this year. New rules might change that.

Junior Market Livestock Sale at the Western Idaho Fair

Local businesses and community members shout bids during the Western Idaho Fair's junior market livestock sale on Tuesday, Aug. 20 in Garden City, Idaho. Many Treasure Valley kids use the money they make at the market sale for college funds.
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Local businesses and community members shout bids during the Western Idaho Fair's junior market livestock sale on Tuesday, Aug. 20 in Garden City, Idaho. Many Treasure Valley kids use the money they make at the market sale for college funds.

Treasure Valley kids get thousands of dollars for their college funds at local fairs’ junior market sales, where local businesses and community members bid on the cows, goats and pigs that 4-H and FFA participants have carefully raised all year. But an old rule allowing the selling of animals at more than one county fair in a single summer is changing next year, putting some of that money in jeopardy.

Hans Bruijn, Premium Office coordinator at the Western Idaho Fair, said the business community is always supportive of the market sales at the Western Idaho Fair and the Canyon County Fair. Western Idaho Fair staff don’t have final numbers on how much money Treasure Valley children received at the 2019 Junior Market Livestock sale, but Bruijn said last year’s sale grossed a record-breaking $353,000, and he predicted the final count for 2019 would come close to matching that number.

Maci Glineski, of Boise, received the high bid of $6,385 for her steer at the Western Idaho Fair’s junior livestock sale last week. Her older brother, Gunner Glineski, came in second in the same category and got $6,298 for his steer. Local businesses and fair attendees signed up to bid on the animals, usually offering upward of $4 or $5 a pound for cattle.

Generally, 4-H and FFA kids may show or sell animals only in the same county where their 4-H or FFA club is based. But Canyon and Ada county kids have been crossing boundaries to show in both fairs for decades, thanks to a special agreement between the fairs and extension offices.

“It’s kind of unique. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the state,” Bruijn said.

That’s changing next year, when the University of Idaho extension offices will begin implementing a rule meant to ease overcrowding at Treasure Valley fairs — particularly at the Canyon County Fair. Starting in 2020, kids won’t be allowed to show and sell market animals such as beef cattle, sheep, meat goats, swine and chickens at both fairs.

Students in 4-H and FFA can still show at both fairs if one is a market animal and another is a breeding animal. But they’ll have to decide whether to participate in the Western Idaho Fair’s livestock sale or the one at the Canyon County Fair.

Western Idaho Fair participants came to Garden City from all over the southwest part of the state, but market sale participants can only be from 4-H or FFA clubs in Ada or Canyon. Several of the winners had just successfully sold other animals — sheep, goats, cattle or pigs — at the Canyon County Fair a few weeks before.

Jacob Woodson, 12, told the Idaho Statesman that the auction itself — where he paraded his pig, Pancakes, in front of a crowd of people while audience members shouted bids at the auctioneer — was “kind of nerve-wracking.” However, he said he loved the entire five-month process of caring for Pancakes and competing at the fair.

“You get to hang out with them and you really get to see what they behave like,” said Jacob, a Kuna resident. “They are really nice animals.”

Bruijn said the decision to restrict access to the market sales was a difficult one reached after long discussions between the University of Idaho extension offices in Ada and Canyon counties, Canyon County commissioners, and staff at both the Canyon County Fair and the Western Idaho Fair. They settled on the decision they felt would relieve overcrowding with minimal effect on the kids, although they’ll have to wait until next year to see how the decision plays out.

“I don’t think anyone really knows what the effect is going to be,” Bruijn said.

Kendra Mendes, 9, is one of the 4-H kids who might be affected by the new rule. She showed a sheep named Spirit at the Canyon County Fair a few weeks ago and entered her steer, Knucklehead, in the Western Idaho Fair’s market sale last week. She mentioned the crowding in the Canyon County Fair’s 4-H livestock area — she told the Statesman she had to share space with other kids — but said she loved the experience of participating in both fairs.

“I really like it and it’s super fun,” she told the Statesman.

The junior market sale at the Western Idaho Fair is a community-focused event, much like the other 4-H and FFA events at local fairs. Sandy Crawford, a Meridian volunteer who’s worked the sale for more than two decades, said her children aren’t in FFA and 4-H anymore — now her grandkids participate — but she continues to volunteer because of everything the fair and market sale taught her family.

“They learn responsibility, they learn what they’ve done good and what they’ve done bad,” Crawford said. “The money is really the least of it.”

Ultimately, Bruijn said, the crowding that prompted the change is a good problem to have. Even though there might be less Treasure Valley farmland than there used to be, there are still plenty of local kids who want to raise livestock or learn about agricultural careers.

“It’s great that there is still that interest,” Bruijn said. “Some of those kids, they don’t have the animal at their own home but they may have it at a neighboring farm or with someone they work with. I do think it’s important, especially at the Western Idaho Fair where we are more and more urban, that we still have these kids who want to participate.”

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Investigative reporter Nicole Foy covers Latinos, agriculture and government accountability issues. She graduated from Biola University and previously worked for the Idaho Press and the Orange County Register. Her Hispanic affairs beat reporting won first place in the 2018 Associated Press regional awards. Ella habla español.
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