Merced County Spring Fair Heritage Foundation is nurturing the next generation of voices for agriculture.
Formed in 2011, this community-minded organization stepped in to fill the gap left when state funding for county fairs was eliminated. With generous donations from a wide range of local residents, farmers, organizations and businesses, the foundation has pledged to keep agriculture in the forefront at the Merced County Spring Fair.
“Our goal is to support agriculture and reward the kids that participate in the fair,” says Heritage Foundation President Cannon Michael.“The focus is on commitment to youth and to educate the community about the importance of agriculture.”
Cannon said the communities of western Merced County have many talented youth who will be the next round of voices to advocate for agriculture.
“We’re relying on them. This is an investment.”
Not only does the foundation reward youth, it also engages them in community activities. The foundation’s presentation team is comprised of local students with an interest in leadership and honing their speaking skills. This year’s team includes Mackenzie Hurley, Corie Falaschi, Isabella Alberti, Tony Lopes and Nelson Hanson.
These high school students have become featured speakers at many meetings of local civic organizations, telling their stories about fair participation and sharing the importance of preserving their agricultural heritage.
Students on the presentation team also speak for the hundreds of local youths who participate in some way at the Merced County Spring Fair, from showing livestock to entering artwork to volunteering their time to help with the fair’s agriculture education exhibits.
The fair’s Henry Miller farm is one example of students embracing their agricultural heritage by volunteering at this unique educational exhibit during the fair. More than 20,000 visitors spend time learning about agriculture and its history in Merced County.
School staff members work with students to design and build displays and care for the animals in the exhibit. More than 5,500 exhibits are entered at the fair each year with agriculture mechanics projects, art, photography, flowers, livestock, small animals, sewing and crafts prepared for competition. The Heritage Foundation aims to reward hard work and talent at the fair.
In addition to ribbons and trophies, exhibitors have received more than $50,000 in total cash awards for their efforts. Students can also vie for Heritage Foundation scholarships. Last year more then $35,000 in scholarship money was awarded to deserving students who are now attending college at 14 different campuses across the United States. Michael said it is expected that many of those students will return to this area, but no matter where they put down roots, it is hoped they will remember the Heritage Foundation’s contribution to their educational dreams.