Fifteen-year-old Ella Prine and her rabbit, Harry, waited all year for the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show. On Saturday morning, they won a blue ribbon for Best in Class, a prize awarded to the best rabbit of its breed.
“A lot of work goes into it,” Prine said. “Grooming him is a big part of it. He is kind of high maintenance for grooming, so I had to do that a lot.”
Prine was one of many children from across the county who participated in livestock shows at the annual fair, which took place from March 5-9 at the Alachua County Agricultural and Equestrian Center in Newberry for the first time. In previous years, it was held at the Alachua County Fairgrounds in Gainesville.
Attendees noted the added space and openness of the new venue compared to the previous site.
“The venue is great,” said Sue Mickley, a 65-year-old retiree from Gainesville. “The show ring is set up great, there’s a lot of bleacher space, and good for social distancing.”
Dana Mitchell, 46, whose daughters compete in the yearly shows, said while it takes an adjustment to adapt to a new facility, the event ran well.
“So far, everything’s going very smoothly,” Mitchell, an Archer resident, said. “And it’s nice that everything’s under one barn.”
Mitchell, whose teenage daughters have raised pigs for the shows for years, used one word when describing what the event means to her: “everything.”
It teaches the kids responsibility, she said, describing how the events teach children to be proactive as they contact potential buyers and figure out how to advocate for themselves while navigating the agriculture industry.
The event featured shows where children ages 8 to 18 presented animals they raised. On Saturday, there were shows for goats, pigs, steers and rabbits — each one presided over by a specialized judge who offered specific comments and advice for each animal.
Jessica Switzer, a 26-year-old high school teacher and Future Farmers of America advisor from Lutz, served as the judge for the dairy goat show. She stood in the middle of the ring, closely examined each contestant as they paraded around her and delivered detailed evaluations to each one before deciding the winners of the class.
On her approach to her job as a judge, especially as someone who had shown livestock during her childhood, Switzer said it’s about cooperation and mutual understanding.
“We’re all trying to breed really nice goats and we’re all trying to improve our herds and everything,” she said. “So if I can pass on that knowledge to the kids or give my advice, it’s just an overall win-win.”
Preparing an animal for a show requires a considerable amount of labor. Tobitha Bellamy, the owner of a livestock market in Ocala, discussed the amount of dedication her daughter pours into preparing goats, lambs and steers for these shows.
“They don’t have a sports team for it,” the 48-year-old said. "She feeds before school, she feeds after school, she spends two to three hours a day at the barn, and this is her ballgame.”
After the shows, a ceremony took place to commemorate both the event’s 40th anniversary and the new venue.
U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, Alachua County Commision Chairman Ken Cornell and Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe gave short speeches celebrating the agriculture industry, their personal experiences with it, and its role in the overall strength of our country and society.
Beauford Roland, a 47-year-old Fair Board member and Newberry resident, said he hoped to encourage peoples’ awareness for the importance of the agriculture industry through the event.
“They should understand where their food comes from,” Roland said. “It’s not just from the grocery store, it starts somewhere.”
Ben Crosbie is a contributing writer for The Alligator. Follow him on Twitter @benHcrosbie.