PUYALLUP, Wash. — The Washington State Fair’s new name is supposed to give it more statewide appeal, but that doesn’t make it any easier for FFA participants to attend.
Students from the FFA chapter at Goldendale High School were the only livestock competitors representing Central and Eastern Washington at the fair. Traveling more than 200 miles with their animals wasn’t easy, but it helps that they’re taking home prizes and good experience.
Terry Nickels, FFA adviser and ag teacher at Goldendale, said his students always do well. The four students who came to the fair this year represent about 100 students in his ag program, which includes agricultural mechanics, horticulture, natural resources and livestock. Three who came to the fair breed their own pigs, he said.
But one thing complicates the fair experience, he said.
“It’s tougher for the kids to get out of school,” he said. “Schools are being held more accountable for having students in the seats.”
Some schools, he said, may even count the time away as unexcused absences.
Laine Utter, state FFA reporter from Moses Lake, said school administrators should recognize the benefits of participating in the fair.
“The schools should see how much time and work (the students) put in,” she said. “It’s more than the seven hours they’d have in a classroom. These are legitimate absences from school. They’re not just cutting classes.”
Michael Heitstuman, vice president of the Washington State FFA and student at the University of Idaho, said, “A lot of these kids are making money for further education.”
He said when he had to take time off for FFA competitions during high school in Quincy and Big Bend, “You’d get your homework done ahead of time and pray you don’t have any tests.”
Tanner Tallman, 17-year-old junior at Goldendale, owns a hog farm and has come to the fair — until now the Puyallup Fair — for 12 years. All four of his pigs won prizes, including best pair and a couple of champions. He plans to head for the swine program at Oklahoma State University.
“I’ll look at the sales end of agriculture, and I’ll still run my own pig farm,” he said. “I may end up in Nebraska. It’s a little bigger in the swine business.”
Bailee Johnson, 13, has been in 4-H a long time and this is her first year in FFA. Having raised swine in Snohomish, on the west side, she has seen a difference in how pigs grow.
“In Snohomish the pigs get dirty real easy, and they grow a little faster,” she said. “In Goldendale, they fatten up easy, but they grow a little slower.”
College is far down the road for her, but she said she wants to raise pigs and cattle as a hobby alongside her future career as a cosmetologist.