Per the Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health order issued last week, anyone attending the New Mexico State fair next month must provide proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated against the Covid virus, which continues to wreak havoc across the country.
For 4H and FFA kids in Torrance County—who, for the past year, have been looking forward to showing their livestock—this is devastating news. Most of them are unvaccinated.
With the fair scheduled to begin on Sept. 9, and with the designation of “fully vaccinated” not valid until a month after the first dose of a two-round vaccination, the latest change comes too late for the kids to do anything about it.
“I know my sister and I spend countless hours in the barn working with our sheep and pigs,” said Estancia High School student Lyndi Otis, 14. “I just feel that the governor did not give us enough time to get vaccinated if we wanted to.”
With school sports still carrying on and game events still attracting crowds, the kids in Estancia can’t help but wonder: Why the State Fair? What makes showing livestock more hazardous than playing contact sports?
The Independent reached out to Wyndham Kemsley, the State Fair public information officer with that question.
“I don’t think the Fair is more risky,” Kemsley said. “But we at the Fair are determined to keep the safety of our guests a priority.”
Though the 4H kids expressed their understanding of the need to keep people safe, they see a double standard when it comes to the continuance of traditional sporting events.
Senior Sophia Sedillo, 17, plays on her school’s softball team and also shows pigs at state and county fairs. “Sure, it’s a lot of people from a lot of different communities” coming together at the State Fair, she said, “but when we’re playing ball, we’re going week to week to different schools, different places. I mean, there’s a lot more places we could get [the virus] playing ball than showing [animals].”
Kayla Metzger, 15, is a member of her school’s Business Professionals of America organization, and has “been showing pigs since [she] could walk,” she said.
“We’re almost always three feet apart from each other, and we’re always moving,” she said of herself and her fellow competitors. “My family’s been in the livestock business for years. No New Mexico State Fair means no livestock sales.”
Money generated from livestock sales “is what we rely on for when we go to college or move on in life,” said Otis.
In addition to lost income, the kids are also dealing with the loss of one of their biggest, most anticipated social events of the year. Last year’s minimal livestock shows were not satisfying, said Payton Otis, 16. “Nothing was the same,” she said. “There was barely any talking or anything. There was no sale or anything. We would just go and show and leave.”
The girls talked about the hours they spent with their animals daily, and how combining their hobby with their social circle was something they always looked forward to.
“You do have to stay home with your animals all the time,” said senior Jayde Perea, 17. “So just being able to get to go out to the fair, you’re still working with your animals but you get that social aspect because … you don’t really get to go out as much when you have that responsibility. So that is something that I’m struggling with.”
Metzger echoed the sentiment. “I am a really social person,” she said, “so I love talking to people and meeting new people and showing off how hard we worked.”
“Most of my friends are from other counties,” said Lyndi Otis, “so I like to be able to see them and to exhibit my animals.”
“I definitely miss the social aspect of it,” Sedillo said. “I think we all have a passion for showing, so … you just look forward to these fairs, and showing off your hard work. It’s really devastating when you can’t do that.”
Though virtual livestock sales were attempted last year, said Payton Otis, who served as a judge for some of those cyber-showings, that method is no good for assessing an actual, living specimen.
“You can’t see half the things online you can see in person,” she said. “You can’t tell if they’re hiding something. They can use Photoshop. There’s no truth to online at all.”
“It’s really not a good system,” agreed Sedillo. “It doesn’t matter what your stock looks like. The person who’s going to win is whoever’s going to be able to put the most money into taking their videos and photos.”
But what is most observable in these kids isn’t anger or defeat. Amidst the commiseration of dashed hopes for this year’s State Fair was laughter, and recurring statements of positivity and perseverance.
“This industry, it’s pretty awesome,” Perea said. “Because even though things are getting shut down, and we keep getting our hearts broken over and over again, our community just comes together all the time and they try to put shows on. They just want the kids to get out and they’ll just do everything they can to let us show [our animals].”
“It’s just super cool,” agreed Sedillo. “The Ag industry as a whole. It’s not just our county that puts on shows, it’s a bunch of different counties and everybody’s invited. So, in that way, it’s kind of like it’s for all the state.”
The girls readily acknowledge the lessons they’ve been learning over the last year and a half. They’ve found value in not letting people push them around, in standing up for themselves and what they believe in, and in being resilient, they said. They all expressed joy and gratitude for their exposure to life in the Estancia Valley.
“I just feel like I get to experience something different,” said Payton Otis. “Because when you go into the city, not a lot of kids really even understand all the stuff we get to experience everyday that’s normal to us,” like driving a stick-shift and birthing animals, she said. “But this kind of prepares us, just puts us a step ahead for when we have to go out into the real world, because we’ve had these experiences.”
The girls discussed the possibility of local organizations putting together events to satisfy the hard work they put in leading up to the State Fair. They recalled how adaptive the community was last year when the pandemic was still new.
“The community is great,” said Sedillo. “When stuff like this happens…they really work hard for us, the youth, and whatever the problem is, they try to fix it.”
Perea acknowledged the fact that, as challenges continue to arise for the “show kids,” as they call themselves, new ways of maintaining the rural life they know and love are also being developed.
In this way, the girls, their peers, and their families are now part of something with the potential to grow into new, locally sustainable customs and practices for their community and surrounding counties.
“I know last year, there were a bunch of new shows and everything because of what happened,” said Perea, “and so we made a lot of changes. And hopefully a lot of new traditions. Maybe.”