Sowing the next generation of loyal Missouri State Fair livestock exhibitors. That is how the Missouri State Fair Foundation views its latest grant program, which offers first-time exhibitors funds to offset costs associated with showing at the state fair.
“The mission of the Missouri State Fair Foundation is cultivating the future of agriculture,” says Wendy Loges, executive director of the foundation. “Investing in youth livestock exhibitors and providing more opportunities for them to exhibit is a great way to put our mission into action. Even if they don’t stay active in agriculture, they will always be a friend and advocate of agriculture.”
Raising funds for grants
The Missouri State Fair Foundation First-time Exhibitor Grant is in its second year. The program started at the foundation’s “Cultivating the Future Gala” in August 2019.
At the event, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe shared his story of being a first-generation farmer and then kicked off the bidding at $500. In less than five minutes, Loges says, donors committed $11,500. Later, another donor added more money, and the inaugural grand total was $13,000.
That year, the foundation received 129 grant applications and awarded 26 grants to 32 exhibitors. While there are some individual grantees, Loges explains that families or siblings are awarded one grant to split.
Then COVID-19 hit. The 2020 Missouri State Fair only held a youth livestock show, so exhibitors were able to use the grants to attend. However, it created a problem. There was no gala gathering in 2020 to fund the 2021 grants. But Loges says, “The coolest thing happened.” The kids raised much of the funds.
“We asked first-time exhibitors who were willing to do a peer-to-peer fundraiser on Facebook,” she explains. “We had people seeing their posts on social media and calling and asking to make a donation. Our youth exhibitors raised $10,000.” The Missouri State Fair Foundation then found a match for the money raised by the youth. Several Missouri companies and individuals stepped up and pledged support.
The 2020 Fund a Dream campaign allowed the foundation to award 46 grants to 54 youths to attend this year’s Missouri State Fair and exhibit livestock. “It was great to see the involvement of kids and the community,” Loges adds.
Growing ag’s next generation
To be eligible for the Missouri State Fair First-time Exhibitor Grant, youth must be enrolled in either 4-H or FFA. There is no formula that reserves a certain amount of funds for one group over the other. “We look at the individual’s application and how committed they are to the project,” Loges explains. However, there is one caveat — youth must raise and exhibit livestock.
“Attending the state fair with livestock is very expensive,” Loges says. “You usually have to camp and stay with your animals. It also takes a certain dedication for these exhibitors to care for an animal almost year-round.”
The grant funds vary. For those youth exhibiting cattle, swine, sheep or goats, it is $500. For others showing chickens or rabbits, it is $250.
Applicants must not have previously exhibited livestock in a 4-H or FFA class at the Missouri State Fair. Loges says the foundation’s selection committee looks at a mix of those new to 4-H or FFA, along with those kids whose families have been attending for generations.
“It is about rewarding people that have been showing at the state fair for a long time, while really cultivating those novice exhibitors as well,” she says.
“We know that kids who exhibit livestock have developed great character traits, work ethic and leadership skills,” Loges says. “We want to invest and grow those kinds of kids.”
The First-time Missouri State Fair Exhibitor Grants not only garnered the attention of youth, families and companies across the state, but also those at the International Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.
The program was selected for the 2020 Judge’s Choice Overall Agricultural Award.