The small signs were plastered throughout the barns at the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds: “Who will buy the million dollar steer?” and “Who will buy the half-million dollar hog?”
The signs made sense when sale officials announced this would be the year that the total for the steer sale would pass the million dollar mark (at least in recent years since better records were kept and stored). One steer buyer would be the individual to push the cumulative total past $1 million.
Likewise, in the hog sale, one buyer would be the one to nudge the hog sale total over $500,000.
As the steer and hog sales got under way, someone kept track of the running totals. When the noteworthy mark was reached, the sale was stopped and photos taken and plaques presented.
Think about it: $1 million spent on the youth of Ashtabula County (and that’s just the steer sale).
Last week’s Stark County junior fair sales topped $510,000, the second consecutive year the auction passed the half-million dollar mark. Wayne County will probably come close to that figure, and this year’s Columbiana County sales totaled more than $300,000 for the first time.
That’s a lot of money.
That’s a lot of individual buyers buying one 102-pound lamb, one 98-pound goat, one pen of chickens.
On Aug. 30, just prior to the start of the Stark County Fair steer sale, the steer committee paused to honor longtime sale supporter Dennis Biery of Biery Cheese.
But Biery does more than open his wallet to buy a few steers. Many years ago, he started personally interviewing 4-H’ers who wrote him seeking his support of their animals at the sale. They had to come to his office for an interview if they wanted him to consider bidding.
Imagine going into a business office as a 14-year-old, sitting across the desk from a company owner, trying your best sales pitch — a nerve-wracking situation for some, no matter what age. But marketing is part of the 4-H learning process, and Biery turned that dreaded interview into a positive experience, instilling self-confidence to many through the years.
“Dennis has a passion for the values and qualities of life that are instilled through the American family farm,” the steer committee wrote in a special tribute in the sale bill.
“He believes in respecting nature, promoting family unity, developing a strong work ethic, and passing a heritage down from generation to generation.”
I dare say that can be said of many of the supporters of the 4-H and FFA programs in counties across this country.
When you buy something at the county fair livestock sale, you’re not really buying a pig or a steer or a turkey, you’re encouraging a child. And that’s priceless.