For many, the San Mateo County Fair is a time to relax, play games, splurge on carnival food and take a spin on the merry-go-round; but a group of dedicated teens look forward to the annual event where they get to show off their hard work through 4-H.
The Cañada 4-H club is made up of a group of youth who say their years of experience in the organization supporting each other and raising farm animals has taught them responsibility, collaboration, leadership and confidence.
“I wish I could spread the program to other kids because it teaches you many things,” said Kris Sjolund, a 16-year-old Sequoia High School student who has participated in 4-H for 11 years.
Throughout the fair, attendees can visit with dozens of 4-H kids who are happy to show off their animals that range from guinea pigs to heifers. The members are responsible for picking an animal, raising it, presenting them to judges and then many of the animals go to auction.
Andrew Weiss, a 17-year-old Woodside High School student who has been in 4-H for 11 years, said he’s raised a gamut of livestock from goats to guinea pigs. For Weiss, attending and competing at the fair is about much more than a week at the San Mateo County Event Center.
“You have the [animals] for four months. You have to get up early, wash them and groom them. If you slack off, it will be obvious at the fair — if you slacked off during the year,” Weiss said.
Emmalee Holmes, a 17-year-old Sequoia High School student, said her sister and friends introduced her to the Cañada 4-H club seven years ago. This year, she and her sister raised two Hampshire Suffolk lambs.
They start by visiting with a breeder and inspecting the infant lambs, Holmes said. After years of experience, Holmes said they base their picks on body composition through measuring the distance between the rib cage and hips, which has the flattest back and biggest rear end.
At the fair, 4-H members enter the arena and are judged by how well they’ve trained their animals, which display superb genetics and which appears would produce the best meat, Holmes said.
Depending on the type of animal they raise, they’re typically sold for slaughter.
“It feels good to be up there and be rewarded for what you’ve done. But sometimes it’s hard (to sell them), especially with the larger animals because you get attached,” Holmes said.
Cole Alves, a 17-year-old Woodside High School student, said she’s participated in 4-H for nine years and spent the last three months dedicated to raising a lamb.
Alves said outside of undertaking the responsibility of raising an animal they can sell for enough to break even, they learn an undeniable lesson about where their food originates.
“You have the hands-on experience. It’s just a different way of learning. They wouldn’t teach you this in school. It’s just not something you get to experience every day, especially where we live,” Alves said.
Most of the teens live in urban areas where raising farm animals is far from the norm. Sjolund said some of their classmates think their time with 4-H is a little odd, but the lessons are highly valued.
“A lot of people respect us more because [we] know where their food comes from,” Sjolund said.
Raymond Juballa, a 16-year-old Hillsdale High School student who has participated in 4-H for eight years, said he takes on a hefty responsibility for the fair. Juballa said he raised chickens, a turkey, rabbits and a lamb.
The Cañada 4-H members said the animals they raise produce a much higher quality of meat compared to what a typical grocery store can offer.
Animals that are less stressed because they’re not kept in tight quarters and provided with a nutritional diet taste much better, the group said.
“It is a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it because of the experience you get,” Juballa said.
4-H provides a range of opportunities that include learning about photography, gardening, archery, sewing, astronomy and even geocaching.
“It’s everything from how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to boat safety. It’s pretty much anything,” Sjolund said. “It’s not just animals, there’s a lot of leadership and crafts. Next year, I want to do a computer science [presentation]. It’s whatever lifestyle you want to pursue.”
4-H participants and their animals are on display throughout the nine-day fair. The Master Showmanship competition is Friday between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. The first-place winner from each species category will display their animals for the judges.
The animals are auctioned Saturday beginning 10 a.m.
The San Mateo County Fair runs through Sunday, June 15. For more information tickets and schedule visit www.sanmateocountyfair.com.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106