By TIM HEARDEN
ANDERSON, Calif. -- For Sarah Davis, a journey into FFA involvement started with her family.
The 15-year-old high school student from here didn't grow up on a farm, but her uncle did. Her older brother, Daniel, started in FFA as a high school freshman, prompting Sarah to join soon afterward.
Now Sarah Davis is her chapter's historian, and she has goals of running for chapter president next year. She said FFA programs have taught her leadership and responsibility.
"Raising an animal, I've learned that he was independent but I was responsible," Davis said as she walked her pig, Deeter, at the Shasta District Fair here June 12. She said she thinks those skills will be important later, when she goes into the professional world or raises children.
One of hundreds of youths in 4-H and FFA bringing market animals to the local fair, Davis personified the changing nature of kids in today's programs. While the youngsters of a couple generations ago all lived on farms and brought their animals to the fair, many club members today were drawn to agriculture by friends or family.
Some, like 17-year-old Anderson High School senior Nina Tucker, live in a subdivision and keep their animals at their school's farm. An FFA member for four years, Tucker is her chapter's incoming president and is also Shasta County's Beef Princess. As her fair project this year, she brought a Hereford heifer that's seven months pregnant.
"It's a lot of work," she said. "You have to be out there every day. If you don't, they can get rowdy and pushy. You have to remind them that even though you're smaller than them, you're the boss."
To be certain, some youngsters who bring animals to their local fair do still live on farms. Tenyson Fowler, 11, of Ono, Calif., brought a Hereford steer to the Shasta fair. It is her second year of entering.
"I do learn a lot," she said.
Her father, Matt Fowler, was "never an ag person," he said. But he married a fifth-generation cattlewoman, and he hopes his daughter someday takes up the business.
He said the animal exhibits at fairs are an important way to teach urban families about what happens on farms.
"There's such a disconnect about where people get their food," Fowler said. "Anytime anyone who lives in the city can get involved in agriculture, it's huge. That's why we support the fair so much. It lets people from the city see there's a whole different side. This is where their food comes from."
The divergent backgrounds of today's fair entrants encourages Teresa Albaugh, a Cottonwood, Calif., rancher and the Shasta fair's livestock coordinator.
"It's just giving them a chance to have hands-on experience," Albaugh said. "Maybe they'll like it and go on to school and learn about it."