Laura Taylor Recognized a Need That She and Her Husband Knew They Could Fill
by TERESA SCHIFFER
For decades, kids in Polk County interested in agriculture had just one venue for showing their livestock and other products, and that was the Polk County Youth Fair. A group of local agriculturalists, led by Laura Taylor, decided to do something about this.
Polk County native Laura Taylor grew up in North Lakeland. Her family has a long history of involvement with agriculture. In the early 1980s, they raised Beefmaster cattle in the Kathleen area of North Lakeland, then moved on to the Brangus breed in the 1990s. Taylor got involved with the International Junior Brangus Breeders Association, and in 1998 was elected president of the organization. In 2015, they began working with the Ultrablack® Brangus breed.
After graduating from Kathleen High School, Taylor attended the University of Florida in Gainesville where she studied public relations and marketing, with a minor in business and an outside concentration in animal science.
In time, like many others, Taylor became frustrated with the slow movement on updating the Bartow Agriculture Center where the Polk County Youth Fair has been held since 1947. Though Polk County is one of the state’s top cattle producers, the Agriculture Center is significantly smaller than those of neighboring counties.
In February of 2020, Taylor and her husband called together a group of friends to discuss the prospect of establishing a new opportunity for young agriculturalists in Polk County to participate in the process of showing and marketing livestock. The Central Florida Youth in Agriculture was thus conceived as a forum for area young people to showcase and sell their own cattle and swine.
Central Florida Youth in Agriculture, or CFYIA, is not a “fair” by Florida’s official guidelines, as it does not offer the fuller scope of categories that would include aspects like horticulture, family and consumer sciences, or other special activities. It is strictly an exhibition and sale of livestock similar in nature to the Junior Cattlemen’s series.
“For our sale, the exhibitor has the choice whether they want to sell their animal or not, so it’s a non-terminal sell,” Taylor explains. “That does create a few things that we have to do from the Florida Department of Agriculture, like if a pig is over 6 months old, they have to be bred.”
Though entrants may exhibit more than one animal, they must decide upon entry on one specific animal to offer for sale, if they choose to sell. They may enter an animal as a breeder to show and not sell it. So an exhibitor would be allowed to show both a hog and a steer, but they would only be able to sell one of those. A commission of no more than 5 percent is charged for all animals entered in the sale. Those funds go to CFYIA.
The students who enter this show acquire their livestock without formal assistance from CFYIA, though they are encouraged to reach out to any member of the Board of Directors if they need assistance. The organization does offer opportunities for educating the participants on different aspects of raising and showing livestock.
“We had different clinics during the show on things like showmanship and nutrition. That way they can take part and learn at the event in addition to just showing,” Taylor says. “We wanted to make an educational aspect, and we’re going to do more of that in the future.”
Though their inaugural fair was held in 2021, there was some concern over participation due to the ongoing COVID situation, but this year’s show proved to be an excellent draw. There were 239 exhibitors registered for this year’s event with a total of 515 entries, all from Polk County. Due to space restrictions, the swine entries were limited to no more than 150. There were 29 steer entries in the cattle division.
The goal of the CFYIA program is to be as inclusive as possible to students wishing to be involved. The minimum age requirement is that the child be at least five years old and in kindergarten in order to show a hog, or eight years old to show cattle. The participants must have a tie to Polk County, either by living or attending school in the county. There is no requisite participation in any specific agricultural program outside of CFYIA.
Moving forward, Taylor continues to refine the vision of CFYIA as an agriculture education organization in addition to an opportunity for youth to show and market animals. She has received outstanding encouragement from those in the local ag community and is hoping to garner the cooperation of area schools to offer various educational opportunities.
“The goal is to have some workshops, whether it’s on showmanship, feeding, nutrition, so members will have access to education and resources,” Taylor says. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of support.”
CFYIA is off to a great start and is sure to make a lasting, positive impression on the youth and community of Polk County.