PARTNERS

By Craig W. Anderson

The 2020 AgFest seemed doomed by the COVID-19 chaos that ensured the demise of many events around the state. But organizers have found a way to turn the show and auction into a virtual event where FFA and 4-H exhibitors can show and auction their livestock and agricultural projects.

“Fairs across the nation are canceling not only their programs but the fairs themselves are put on hold,” said Josh Hiatt, president of the San Joaquin Junior Show and Auction Council, a 501c3 nonprofit organization formed in 2014. “Our feeling is to never give up, never surrender and to figure out a way to give kids a sense of normalcy by having their AgFest despite the challenges of COVID-19.”

The council’s mission is to provide a place for San Joaquin County youth to show their accomplishments despite the restrictions imposed by the virus situation, via a virtual medium.

The online auction takes place June 12 and 13 and buyers can bid on all of the market animals.

AgFest success continues

“Our AgFest is the only county fair with an independent group that hosts a livestock show,” said council member and volunteer Molly Watkins. The organization has had no government help since its inception and, she said, “Everyone said it couldn’t be done and we’ve had AgFest for seven years!”

Transforming an event such as AgFest into a positive, workable and effective online show and auction required, said Hiatt, rewriting the AgFest guidebook because “no one was prepared for the effects of the pandemic. But we’ve remained 100 percent optimistic about a positive solution and conclusion.”

Experienced partner

AgFest is partnering with SC Online Sales from Robinson, Ill., to create and manage the virtual show and auction. Watkins noted that the company has “expertise in hosting online shows and auctions for cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits and in our case, dogs across the nation. This program allows exhibitor’s projects to be evaluated without contact and to sell livestock, despite social distancing.”

“There was really no choice about going virtual,” said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. “It was the only way to go because California officials mandated no groups larger than 10 can assemble, and this event always draws a good audience. “We had to use available technology to give kids the AgFest opportunity and to help them get through this virus situation.”

He also pointed out that “this could be the first virtual AgFest ever in California.”

How it works

How will AgFest work? Watkins said exhibitors will submit photographs and videos of their livestock, ag mechanics, woodworking, floral, vegetable, entomology and horticultural projects. “Industry qualified judges will review all of the virtual entries and place the classes. Awards will be given to the outstanding exhibits just as if it were a live show.”

Exhibitors will enter their projects April 20 through May 11; submit their videos and photographs of their entries June 6-9, and the judges will evaluate and place entries. Livestock will be sold during an online auction June 12-14.

AgFest website

Details about entering, viewing the judging results and auction participation can be found at the AgFest website: www.sanjoaquinagfest.org.

“We want to help kids as much as possible to sell their animals and other projects,” said SJFB President David Strecker. “Farm Bureau’s looking forward to those who attended past AgFests to be involved in this one and that new people will also be attracted to this unique event.”

AgFest benefits

AgFest gives FFA and 4-H members the opportunity to be actively engaged in the agriculture industry, exhibiting their livestock and vocational projects, receiving expert feedback and selling eligible projects at the conclusion of the event.

“AgFest is our version of the traditional agriculture fair that teaches youth lessons in life skills and capital investments,” Watkins said.

“We encourage people who’re interested in supporting AgFest to get online for the show and auction,” Blodgett said. “These kids excel and sell not only their projects but the ways agriculture education benefits them.”

New markets

This virtual event holds promise of opening up new marketing potential via its combination of live and online venues. “It’s definitely a combination that will be explored,” Blodgett said.

“I think it’s a great thing that we can do this,” said SJFB Second Vice President Jake Samuel. “When the Coronavirus hit, the AgFest kids were just starting their projects and for most of them, you can’t just stop and sell your animal. These kids must have an opportunity to sell their animals and other projects.”

He added, “This is a lesson regarding what can happen to an everyday business, in this case, ag. Our AgFest is unique because some counties aren’t set up like we are. We got this ball rolling a long time ago.”

“This virtual showing and auction is a positive demonstration that a pandemic isn’t going to stop FFA or 4-H kids from experiencing their own AgFest,” Hiatt said.