By Audrey Hill
Student at Cal Poly
The Kern County Fair isn’t just a place where we can feel the rush of roller coasters that might have been put up just a little too fast or a place where we can eat copious amounts of fried food, it is also a place where hard working kids get to display their passions for livestock. The community of youth centered around showing livestock, especially those in Kern County, are frankly the hardest working group of kids I’ve ever met, not to mention the amount of respect they radiate at any given moment. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 still looming over our heads, these kids may have to sit out this year’s Kern County Fair and Jr. Livestock Auction. Much is unknown about the plans regarding the fair, but this is what we do know.
The Kern County Fair board states that their number one priority is safety and they will be following Governor Newsom’s Executive Order to cancel gatherings of 250 people or more for the time being. The board also opted to wait to make any final decisions regarding the cancellation of all fair related events until their July board meeting. Hopefully by then, the virus will have receded and Governor Newsom will not give out a second executive order for the cancellation of large events, including fairs. This July board meeting will go over everything from livestock to roller coasters and is where all plans for cancellation will be discussed and finalized, if of course, that is the unfortunate decision. However, this is not the end of the story.
The Kern County Fair Board of Directors are all working tirelessly trying to stay prepared in an ever-changing environment and have theorized many alternative plans. Lucas Espericueta, a director on the fair board, stated his idea for a “Plan B” in the latest fair board meeting. Espericueta said, “When I think about the future of the fair in light of this COVID-19 and reading all the news – you know – touching things, 6 feet of space in between everyone, face masks and all these other things that are common vernacular now, I think we need a plan b.” His Plan B entails abandoning rides and games – as they would violate social distancing measures – but keep the exhibits, livestock and concerts by turning it into a music festival styled event where people are able to easily stay 6 feet apart. Espericueta theorizes that “We can make use of the space in the northwest corner [where the rides are usually] and start spreading everyone out and have all the same line up planned, which I hear is going to be amazing. There is a shining line-up right now that we have set up, and it would be a shame to cancel it all.” It’s unfortunate that this plan cannot include the rides and carnival games that many associate with the fair, but I think Espericueta’s plan is better than nothing and could be the framework for a very creative solution to such a very frustrating time. This plan would need a lot of work to incorporate livestock while maintaining social distancing measures, but as of right now all alternative plans are still only frameworks.
Aside from general fair related planning, the livestock barn has faced hardships of its own. Potentially, the most devastating is the absence of Buyer number 9.
Thousands of Kern County’s youth sell livestock at the Kern County Fair and many come away with a little extra cash afterward. Youth from all over the county sell their project animals at this true old-fashioned live auction, taking the stage to show off their hard work. A few years ago, an anonymous buyer, known as Buyer 9, began buying animals and donating the meat back to our local food bank. Buyer 9 became an overnight sensation for those in the livestock show industry, and youth from around the county were overjoyed with the extra money they earned. Kids that normally couldn’t afford to buy a competitive show animal were using the money they earned to double down on animals year over year. The infamous Buyer 9 of the Kern County Fair Livestock Auction has supplied a massive amount of funds to hundreds of students purchasing around one third of all of the livestock that runs through the auction block. And as if it wasn’t generous enough to purchase these animals that can cost roughly three times the market value, Buyer 9 also donates all of the meat back to the community. Unfortunately, Buyer 9 will not be returning to the fair this year due to COVID-19. Isaiah Ruiz, a former Bakersfield High School FFA member, comments on how important Buyer 9 is to our community and how much they will be missed this year: “Buyer 9 plays a super important role as an auction buyer. […] The truth is that many students struggle finding buyers and sponsors. So, knowing ultimately that buyer nine would be the one to buy the animal was at least comforting to know.” Now without the safety net of Buyer 9 present, these showmen are at an even greater disadvantage as they struggle to find sponsors and alternative buyers in this trying time.
If the fair must be cancelled and no in-person shows will be available, the fair board will instead provide an online show and auction in its place. Online livestock shows are a relatively new phenomenon and the industry is lukewarm about them so far. They will function the same as a normal livestock show essentially, however this time it is in the showman’s backyard with a video camera in lieu of a livestock ring and judge. Some predict that these types of shows will be the way of the future, and others are highly skeptical. Taylor Williams, a Frontier FFA senior showman who has shown pigs, goats and sheep for over nine years and is also the owner of Rockstar Show Goats, commented: “If the shows are moved online I will be sad because you don’t get the fair experience, but it’s definitely better than nothing.” She also said that she is hopeful that she will be able to come back to her “second home” this year and show in-person at the Kern County Fair. The current circumstances we are under are causing a lot of changes to how we normally operate. Students are missing out on the traditional comradery of learning together. But just like Taylor Williams, I know that our community is strong and flexible and can work with and around the unfavorable conditions at present. In the end, we will find a way to do what we love online or in person. Raising livestock and project animals is an important part of learning the values of farming. That hard work pays off and dedication and commitment does not go unrewarded.
Ms. Hill is an Animal Science student at Cal Poly (SLO) with plans to become a large animal veterinarian. She grew up in Bakersfield spending most of the time in the ag community, and she’s proud to call it her home. “I’m honored to represent Kern County’s small ag at home as well as at Cal Poly.”