Across the Midwest at this time of year, you can hear the sound of the auctioneer. At county fairs and state fairs, the 4-H livestock sale is a celebration of achievement, hard work, and leadership. It is a time when a community comes out to honor young people and reward them with a financial incentive to continue in their project or invest in their higher education. It is a time of optimism about the future of agriculture and a community. That’s why my recent visit to the livestock auction at the Marion County Fair was such a depressing and disheartening experience.
While the Marion County fairgrounds boasts of a large concrete coliseum with a livestock ring and seating for several hundred, the 4H auction was held in the barn behind the coliseum. One set of bleachers was set up to handle the sparse crowd, and a small group of chairs were set up ringside to accommodate the few bidders in attendance. The auction did not take long since there were only 16 animals to be auctioned; and, despite pleading and badgering from the auctioneer, none of the animals sold for more than a few hundred dollars.
“We are really looking hard at whether we want to do this anymore,” said Jeff Jones, the Purdue extension educator in charge of the livestock program in the county. He told me they have been losing participation in animal projects for years. Marion County is the home of Indianapolis; and, as the city eats up what farmland is left, families who have participated in the livestock program for generations are leaving the county. Jones said it is very difficult to interest new families in livestock. Jesse Hart, a 6 year participant in the livestock program told me none of his friends did animal projects in 4H.
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