Polk County Youth Fair Just Weeks Away
by PAUL CATALA
photos by TOM HAGERTY (2023)
The gates to the 2024 Polk County Youth Fair swing open soon with just a few minor changes in store for its 77th year.
There have been some alterations to some of the livestock judging events and shows, but otherwise it will be standard operating procedure at the preeminent youth livestock festival in Polk County.
From his home just east of Fort Meade, Polk County Youth Fair President Scott Fowler says he expects to have more than 1,400 youth participants from ages 8 to 18 and between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors and participants flock to the fair at the Agriculture Complex at 1702 Hwy. 17 in Bartow.
Fowler, now in his second year as PCYF president, says although the hog show will still be held Sunday, hog sales will take place Monday instead of Tuesday, as they have in the past. He says when sales were on Tuesdays, participants would have to spend most of Tuesday night getting their hogs out and cleaning the barns since steers would arrive Wednesday.
“So, we’re giving ourselves an extra day to get the barn cleaned up and everything to get it ready for steers coming in,” he explains.
Additionally, Fowler, who’s been on the PCYF board for 15 years, says the whip-popping contest is moving from Tuesday to Monday.
Fowler says last year, $1.2 million was paid out in sales at the PCYF. He expects about the same this year, but he and the youth fair board have been working to raise the amount of Premium Points money to be distributed. Premium Points translate into cash prizes youths receive based on the colors of the ribbons they’ve been awarded. He says the PCYF board uses its own money and some money from the State of Florida for those cash awards but has held some fundraisers to help subsidize those amounts.
“We’re trying to be better stewards of our extra money we’ve had; we’ve added a lot of that to the Premium Points,” Fowler says.
“It ain’t a pile of money, but it does help them quite a bit.”
Fowler says the steer show has gotten better over the past two years, but the pig show is always one of the most popular events. He says the PCYF staff are working hard to help the children get their pigs sold.
With participation up a bit this year, Fowler says the youth participants this year will bring a total of 540 pigs and 127 market steers to the fair.
“We’re trying to work on helping the kids be able to sell their animals,” he adds. “We’ve got online bidding capabilities now. There are just a number of things going on that should help.”
Fowler says there also have been some modifications to the PCYF that make it better for all. He says civic groups from Frostproof, Haines City, and Lake Wales will set up a cooking tent where participating students can eat because buying food from concession stands every day can get expensive.
In addition, the Polk County Commission and Commissioner Rick Wilson helped the youth fair board get some extra parking because the venue is what he calls “landlocked” and sometimes difficult to find parking. He says on Clower Street north of the agriculture center there’s property for camping sites, and just past it will be new additional parking for more vehicles.
Having worked with the fair in various capacities over such a long period, Fowler is a firm believer in the event and its value. He says any event in the county designed to help children and youths become well-rounded, productive adults is a “great deal,” and the fair is one way to help do that. He adds the event has become an annual go-to event for youths in agriculture as the generations change and some participants return year after year to volunteer their help.
“We’re doing our best to provide these kids with a great experience that a lot of kids will never get, something that teaches them leadership and responsibility,” he says. “They remember their time there and how much they enjoyed it. Then they start having children of their own – you might miss them six, seven or eight years – but then they start showing up with their own kids. That’s really neat.”