By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
The Kern County Fair is one of the largest and best county fairs in the state. Whether you go to meet your yearly calorie intake with some of the most delicious foods locals have to offer, win a Grand Champion buckle, or some mix of it all, Kern’s County Fair has a little bit for everyone.
In the livestock barns, students compete in one of, if not the most competitive county fair livestock shows in California. Although FFA, 4H, and independent showmen everywhere work for many months to perfect their showmanship and gain a potent appreciation for agriculture, not many conclude their efforts with the quality seen at the Kern County Fair. However, the competition is not all that drives the entry rates and animal numbers up every year. The dedication to agriculture can almost be smelled in the air and lives in the youngest fairgoers pulled by wagon, to the oldest through all the barns.
Allie Lumpkin, Sophomore at Kern Valley High School, is an excellent example of the diverse and hardworking students who present at the fair. This year was Miss Lumpkin’s first year showing at the fair, but she has been involved with her schools “flock team” since her freshman year where she helps feed, care for, and birth all the lambs of the school’s excellent breeding program. She is also a cheerleader and takes pride in her high GPA. Miss Lumpkin’s two lambs, Bullet and Athena were both born on her school farm. Before the fair shows, she attended showmanship practice two nights a week with regular feeding and care shifts. At the shows, she won second place in her market class and fifth overall in her weight class. Speaking on her first year showing at the fair, she says “It was a really good experience. I had a really great connection with all of my showing team,” and “we helped each other out whenever we needed.” One of her lambs will return to the schools’ breeding program and she is very happy to continue to work with her and to continue showing as an upperclassman. After graduation, Miss Lumpkin hopes to attend Cal Poly, SLO, or Montana State University to get her degree in agriculture or pediatric nursing.
On September 29th, 30th, and October 1st, the red barn hosted the 2022 Kern County Fair auction which sees more students and sells more animals every year, although numbers are still down since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Student projects like hand-welded barbecues and hand-crafted wooden tables are sold as part of Ag Mechanics and showcase the tremendous ability of Kern County’s students but also teachers and advisors. Of course, most of the three days was spent selling 581 livestock: pigs, goats, lambs, dairy cows, beef cows, rabbits, and poultry. No sales, however, would easily be possible without the help of auctioneers Justin and Bennett Mebane and the fair thanks them for their efforts.
Those who attend the auction every year know that this year went a little differently than previous years. Formerly, every sponsor form was filled out on paper by showman and sponsor and handed to the livestock office to file and bill. Those stacks of paper built up quickly with roughly 4000 entries every year! This year finally marked the switch to online record-keeping, so sponsors could add funds to showman’s online accounts right up to the last minute of the auction. Despite that benefit, this made for some confusion for students and advisors as no one knew exactly how much money students made until everything was filed after the auction.
Another change to the auction processes this year was the absence of the infamous Buyer 9. After so many years as a prominent buyer, the family does not look to be coming back to the auction barn. The buyer would purchase all animals under a certain set price per pound and give the meat to homeless shelters in Kern County to give back to the community. By providing for the homeless and supporting hard working students, the oil producing family made it easier for students to feel confident that they would make a profit on their animal projects at the end of the year. Unfortunately, this year’s students were not given such an easy way out and had to orchestrate their own buyers. Although students were taken by surprise at the lack of a guarantee, it was an opportunity for growth. Not every family is able to store a whole animal in their freezer. However, the lack of an assured buyer might change that for some, especially considering the sheer quality of meat that a home-grown animal provides and how beneficial the purchase is for students in Ag. Regardless, students were extremely appreciative of the buyers and thank you gift baskets were everywhere. What an amazing sight! Additionally, the livestock office is trying to plan a buyer lunch for the upcoming years.
Fortunately for students, the agriculture community understood the hardship they faced this year and they banded together to do everything they could to help. Local citizens made efforts to find buyers of portions of animals, and show-stock breeders bought up the sows, does, ewes, and cows. Add-ons, a uniquely frequent action at the Kern County auction where people donate to students without buying any animal, were plentiful at 28,065 add-ons for the entire auction.