For those in it, agriculture gets in your blood. It's not at all uncommon to hear about generations of 4-H and FFA students, with parents who raised and showed animals passing their love of it onto their kids. But those legacies have to start somewhere.
Macee Stowers, a 16-year-old junior at Frontier High School, is the first in her family to join 4-H and FFA. Because of that, her early years in the program were full of even more learning curves than usual for a young animal raiser. Though she wasn't necessarily a natural when she showed her first animal (a rabbit) at 5 years old, through hard work, determination and dedication she's become quite an all-star ag student.
"For me, it was a struggle at first," Stowers said, recalling her first year. "I probably didn't place, but I remember I loved every second of it."
Stowers' primary passion in the world of farm animals is horses, though she will show a 5-month-old pig named Oscar, a 16-month-old steer named Bodacious and a 6-month-old duck named Swish in addition to her beloved 14-year-old horse, Charlie. In the weeks leading up to the fair, it's go time, but her work won't be over come Oct. 1. Following the Kern County Fair, she'll show at the fair in Ridgecrest, then head to a national competition for horse judging (where she and her teammates will be scored on how well they evaluate horses — she's No. 1 in the state already).
But that's still a couple of months and big events away. For now, Stowers' attention is on the fair. Since she can only sell one market animal at the fair, she plans to sell the steer here and the pig in Ridgecrest. Following the fair, Charlie and Swish will both come back to Stowers' home, where she keeps and cares for her animals, which include two pet mini ponies.
"This is crunch time," she said. "I know how much (the animals) have put in for me, so I should put in double for them."
Finding a place at the Kern County Fair
Stowers will be one of close to 1,500 young exhibitors at the Kern County Fair this year, and her animals will be four of around 3,200. There are 22 schools in Kern County that have students who participate in the agriculture program. Last year the Kern County Fair had the largest junior livestock auction in the state, which included the sale of both animals and agricultural mechanics entries.
"Our auction makes close to $3 million a year in livestock," said Mike Olcott, CEO and general manager of the fair. The ag program has "grown by leaps and bounds."
Perhaps some of that increase has to do with now grown up former ag students having kids of their own that they put in the program to get the same experience and memories they enjoyed.
"It just gets in your blood," said Patt Sandrini, still exhibit supervisor. "It's just something you do."
Whether they're showing animals or just checking them out, the youth agriculture program is a huge draw for people at the fair. In addition to the animals, the ag program also includes plants, floriculture, baking, preserves, home-brew and more, with those still exhibits supervised by Patt Sandrini.
"It's my goal and Patt's that if someone wants to join and participate, there's a space for them," Olcott said. "We want them to be able to participate."
Some of those exhibits need a little more space than others, like the cows, sheep, pigs and other animals in the livestock barns, where fairgoers will find FFA and 4-H kids like Stowers working hard until the very end.
'It's her way of life'
Though her father works for agricultural products distributor Wilbur-Ellis Corporate, the Stowers family didn't lead the farm family life that lots of FFA and 4-H kids grow up in. Still, they went all-in on their daughter's passion when they realized how serious she was about it, getting a house with land for her animals so she could care for them herself. Stowers said she's "forever grateful" for how much they've invested in her.
Stowers described her mom as "city, all the way" and said her two older sisters never had any interest in showing animals; her younger sister has some interest in following her, though.
With a schedule as demanding as Stowers', though, one could be forgiven for thinking twice. She tries to get up by 5:30 a.m. most mornings to get herself ready for school and her animals taken care of for the first part of the day. Then, she goes to school and stays after with various FFA duties. When she gets home, it's time for homework and caring for the animals, and then bed.
"I wouldn't trade it for the world," she said. "I love every second of it."
Mom Wendy Stowers couldn't help but brag on her daughter, pointing out how special it was for Macee Stowers to earn the top ranking in the state for horse judging as a sophomore at the time.
"When she was little, she never wanted Barbies; it was always horses," Wendy Stowers said. "She started this passion of hers and it always amazes me how she ran with it."
Wendy Stowers, a special education teacher, remembered her daughter's first horse, Deedee, who was older and cheaper than the horses other kids were showing at the time. Macee Stowers was in fourth grade then and didn't do as well as her peers who had more expensive horses.
"She didn't have a top dollar horse," her mother said. "That same horse that she hadn't won with, in a couple years, she was winning with."
Macee Stowers' parents watched and supported her as FFA and horses took on a predominant role in her life.
"When I saw her studying and wanting to know everything and become better, her father and I said, OK, we'll make this initial investment for her," Wendy Stowers said of the decision to move to a house with room for animals. "It's not just her hobby. It's her way of life."
And it will continue to be her way of life even after high school. Macee Stowers wants to be a veterinarian, something she's known since she was 2 years old. She hopes to go to Cal Poly for college and later UC Davis for veterinary school. She envisions herself working with large animals, with a specialty in horse reproduction, saying she'd love working with baby horses. Where will she set up her clinic? Right here in Bakersfield.
"I want to give back to the community that gave so much to me," she said.
A large part of that community has been FFA, of course. To Macee Stowers, it's more than a club at school.
"It's not just Future Farmers of America," Macee Stowers said. "We're not all going to be farmers ... but we're all going to do crazy awesome things in our lives. It's not an organization. It's definitely a family."