Polk County Youth Fair Ready for Action
by PAUL CATALA
photos by THOMAS HAGERTY (2022)
For the past 75 years, the Polk County Youth Fair has been dedicated to helping foster a future for the Polk County and Central Florida youth.
Since the 1940s, generations of youths ages 8 to 18 have been able to show and sell an array of livestock and goods.
The 2023 fair, which takes place in Bartow from January 21-27, is expected to see record numbers of youths showing livestock, getting awards, and making sales, says PCYF President Scott Fowler.
Now in his second month as president, Fowler, 65, has been on the PCYF board of directors for 14 years. A Rockledge native raised in Fort Meade, he was the concession stand manager for 12 years prior to becoming president.
Speaking from his home in Fort Meade, Fowler says 2023 will be a busy year for the PCYF.
Fowler says about 1,000 children participate each year, and in 2023, more than 500 children will have pigs shown and entered and about 100 will show steers. He says the annual hog show is the most popular event, with morning and afternoon shows held Sunday and hogs sold on Tuesday.
Fowler, who volunteers as PCYF president, says between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors and competitors are expected to attend. In addition to hogs and steers, kids and teens will show rabbits, poultry, lamb, horses, horticultural and agricultural plants, and citrus. In 2020, goats were added, which has gained popularity.
“The steer show was down for a while, but it’s beginning to pick back up,” says Fowler.
“It used to be that the steers were the main thing, but hogs have kind of overtaken that because steers are very expensive and it’s a long, drawn-out deal.”
Besides showing their animals, Fowler says another popular competition is the “whip-popping” contest, where kids compete cracking whips. And this year, the PCYF board has added an adult show class for pigs and beef animals, broadening the fair’s scope.
That’s part of the point of the PCYF, says Fowler, to influence children and teens to be aware of the state’s agricultural relevance, even if they don’t go into the field themselves.
“Even if a kid is never involved in agriculture when they’re older…the time they spend and the discipline it takes to raise an animal like that, I think it really builds character and gives them discipline,” he says, “And that builds self-esteem and carries over into any professional career.”
Overall, the 2023 fair will build on the 2022 event, which was a rebuilding year after Covid. He says the 2022 PCYF was a record year in what was paid out in sales, about $1.5 million.
“This year will be a success if we get all the animals sold and the kids get a good price. Last year, it was exceptional,” he adds.
Fowler says the event should be a “positive experience” for everyone involved.
He says the PCYF is also a way for longtime area families to get back to their agricultural roots by bringing back fond memories, which in turn, makes them want to get personally involved with helping the PCYF.
“We want to make sure it’s accessible to children and families, especially first-timers. Our job as youth fair board members is to be able to pour into their lives something that will stick with them for years to come. People I talk to look forward to it every year; it’s the highlight on their calendars.”
For the latest on the fair, go to pcyf.net