“I do it for the opportunity to show off my skills and learn other ones, and the prize money is an added bonus,” said Harrison, 17, a student at Lake Country Christian School in Fort Worth. “Over the years I’ve gotten $1,200. I’ve won 12 grand champions so far in leather craft, woodworking and agricultural mechanics.”
Harrison is one of 599 kids participating in the 2014 Tarrant County Junior Livestock Show and Youth Fair. Together they’re exhibiting 1,376 projects in an event that runs through Saturday, making this year’s show the largest since the Tarrant County Junior Livestock Association was established in 1950. Only four years ago, fewer than 500 students were involved. The growth is good for the association and the show but even better for the public, said R.L. Feldt, the association’s president.
The event is held in three barns at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, just west of downtown.
“We’re getting too big for one barn,” Feldt said. “That’s a good thing. It means that more kids in Tarrant County are getting involved in agriculture.”
This is a much smaller event than the Stock Show, which closed a three-week run in early February. There’s no rodeo, no midway, no exhibit halls filled with vendors and only one food booth. And rather than inviting exhibitors from across the nation, this show is limited to kids from Tarrant County 4-H and FFA chapters. That’s the best reason Feldt could think of for folks to come see it.
“This is local, community kids,” Feldt said. “If you care about your community, then come and see your kids show their projects.”
The folks who already care enough to show up at Saturday’s show-closing livestock sale include Stock Show regulars such as state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and County Commissioner J.D. Johnson.
“The big difference is that a lot of the kids at the big shows are professionals in showmanship,” Johnson said. “They buy high-dollar animals that they know will do good.”
For many, the junior show is a steppingstone, spokeswoman Darla Reynolds said. “It’s a learning ground to go to the next level, like the Fort Worth Stock Show,” she said.
The big reward is the premium sale at 1 p.m. Saturday. Judges will select 18 steers, 32 pigs, 32 lambs, 32 meat goats, 32 dairy goats, 17 rabbits and 15 chickens for an auction in the Swine Barn show arena.
That’s Johnson’s favorite part, because he gets to help reward hardworking kids by using a pool of money he’s been collecting for a while.
“I’ve got donations in my pool from $15 to $15,000,” he said. “It’s impressive but never large enough. I’m going to make sure every kids gets a good fair price.”
The prices aren’t in the same galaxy as the Stock Show, where the grand champion steer sold for $200,000 this year and total sales exceeded $3.3 million. But they’ve been improving, Reynolds said.
“Ten years ago, our totals were under $80,000,” Reynolds said. “Lately we’ve had $200,000 to a quarter-million-dollar sales.”
Only 814 of the projects are livestock. The other 562 are items the students created — from jewelry and art to a 9-foot-tall Irish-bench backyard swing. The nonlivestock projects are exhibited in a space between the Swine Barn and Sheep Barn that’s dubbed the Tradin’ Post. Until 6 p.m. Saturday, anything that isn’t marked “NFS” (not for sale) can be had by anyone who fancies it, if the price is right.
With enough money, someone could carry away the smaller of two backyard swings displayed in the Tradin’ Post. Cody May, a 17-year-old Crowley FFA student, has only another year or so to make money to help him earn a degree in wildlife biology that he’ll need to be a game warden. He’s already turned down a $1,300 offer.
The swing has about $900 worth of materials in it and took him 40 hours to make with help from his dad, Wayne May, and grandfather, Fred Webb.
“They mostly held it together and kept it square while I welded it,” Cody May said.
Youth Fair exhibitors must do most of the work themselves, no matter what they build, bake, sew or paint. They’re encouraged to be creative. Assembling hobby kits is frowned upon, said Darla Sellers, the leather craft superintendent.
“We let them do whatever they want to,” Sellers said. “We’ll judge them on the way they do it, their technique.”
The technique is obvious in a leather tool case that Harrison made for the 2014 show. It’s beautiful and not for sale.
“Every other year, I’d be willing to sell my pieces,” Harrison said. “But the tool holder had space for a name, and my mom made me put my name into it. I’ll use it for sure.”
A friend of Harrison’s in the Lake Country 4-H, Patton Maynard, 15, took creativity to a different level with a tape sculpture he calls Got Milk? It depicts a hand holding a jug pouring milk into a cup.
Between those extremes are things to hang on walls, such as paintings in various media and photographs; plants such as potted flowers, hanging ivy, bonsai trees and succulents; and sewn or handworked clothes and decorative items in needlework, cross-stitch, embroidery, knitting and weaving.
The diversity is one reason the nonlivestock competition grows every year, Reynolds said.
“The Youth Fair was created for the kids who didn’t have the resources to raise an animal for the show,” she said.