By Mari Erin Roth
The Plumas Sierra Fair Board met Sept. 21 at the fairgrounds. The rain was passing, but there was lingering electricity in the air. Board members had a few pressing things on their minds to address and there were members of the public in attendance to discuss those same issues.
The hot topic that was added to the agenda under new business before the meeting began was out-of-county, and even out-of-state, participants in the County Fair Livestock auction. At issue — young sellers of 4-H projects could net up to $8 a pound for their beef at the Plumas Sierra County Livestock Auction — when they would more than likely receive around $2 a pound elsewhere. That is the motivation for out-of-area, 19-and-under participants to join Plumas and Sierra County 4-H clubs for eligibility to enter in the Plumas Sierra Fair.
Megan Neer, the Livestock Sales Chairperson, reported that “last year the auction sales totaled $301,000.” This year the total was over $350,000. “We had 25 new members,” said one member of the public about the Greenville 4-H club meeting this week. Sierra Valley Echo 4H also had a big rush for membership. The way it sits now, there are three categories of agriculture students that participate in the entries at the fair. There is FFA (Future Farmers of America), 4-H, and Independent. For FFA and the Independent categories, members must attend school or reside in either Sierra or Plumas counties. Members of 4-H participating at the Fair must belong to a local club from Plumas or Sierra, but the hitch is, currently there are no restrictions of where 4-H members come from to join the local clubs. Some clubs have limited their memberships to, say, only three out-of-state members or some other type of limitation, but those interested parties could just move on to another Plumas or Sierra County 4-H club to join. The Fair Board has no authority over the rules and regulations of 4-H but the Fair Livestock Sales committee could change the rules so that members of the three clubs could enter to show their animals and compete, but limit participation in the auction sale to just Plumas County or Sierra County residents and students.
Fairgrounds Manager John Steffanic was taking care during the meeting to ensure that any action would stay within State Fair guidelines. He wants to check with those State commissions (before any action is taken) once the board and related committees decide what action, if any, they chose to take to rectifying what they see as a problem.
Other than that, things were reported about as standardly as they usually are. In his manager’s report, Steffanic relayed the progress on the big “to-do” list that is always active at the fairgrounds. A lucky break enabled hydro-seeding of the lawn areas to move forward. In years past, budgeting for big projects has been most of the chore to complete tasks on the well-used fairground site.
The big challenge lately has been finding workers. “We have the money to do most of these things,” reported Steffanic. “The challenge is getting supplies and someone to do the work.” The money to complete projects, upgrades, and maintenance has been available this year but finding people qualified, able, and willing to complete tasks has been a real hurdle.
It’s the same story all around the County, but at the fairgrounds the chore can be daunting. Steffanic explained the process to get a contractor on site to do work. Finding a person or company that is qualified and able is tough, but once that is done, at least two bids are needed (now another qualified and able contractor needs to be found), they need to be registered with the County, approved by County Counsel, and then get the item on the agenda for approval by the County Supervisors at their monthly meeting, and this hoop and that hoop. “It’s time consuming,” said Steffanic. It takes a while, and it is a complicated process.
It is all a great effort in process for safeguarding taxpayer money, this is true. AND times have definitely changed. There is not a line of 20 entities vying to do work for the County fairgrounds. Literally, it is possible to not have a single qualified company available for work that needs to be done in the County, let alone the weeks or maybe even months that it might take to jump through the hoops for authorized spending.
But things are getting done at the fairgrounds. Steffanic is well-versed in the process and does well making the best of it. He has an incredibly handy right-hand man, Orin Morrison, who has used his diverse and flexible talents to fulfill so many of the needs the fairgrounds has had over the many years he has worked there. Steffanic told the board at the meeting Sept. 21 what a high value he puts on the skills of Morrison and how those talents have contributed to all the improvements and innovations that have taken place to the benefit of the venue. The two-person team of Steffanic and Morrison are what keeps the fairgrounds going for the majority of the year. It is they who tackle the ongoing list of items that need doing. And that’s the job; and they do it well. Extra help, when workers can be found, are brought on board by the County at peak periods for some summer events, but the majority of the “heavy lifting” comes from the S&M team.
Board members requested that they be notified when meetings are to take place so that they may have the option of attending and participating. During his report, Steffanic relayed the details from a meeting with those working on floriculture. He listed out the changes the group had in mind, for board input if they had any, and for informational purposes so that the board would be kept abreast of the happenings.
The date change for the fair, two weeks earlier so that the event could continue to include carnival attractions, was of concern because of the heat effects on the flora. Steffanic mentioned that Susanville has their fair a week earlier and that they may have some helpful coping skills for hotter event days. Fans are to be added inside the building as well as a floral display refrigeration unit. An arch will be created welcoming visitors to the competition garden walk and work is planned for the fountain in front of the Floriculture building. Garden categories are to be renamed Large and Small to simplify the distinction. Also, the separation in categories of Senior and Junior will be eliminated, it will just be one big, combined category of gardens. The Floriculture committee decided they would initiate garden meetings for groups participating in the Family Gardens displays. A monthly newsletter is to be created relating “what, how, and when” to plant in the fairground competition gardens. A new category is going to be added: box gardens. Many small box frames will be built (24” x 24” for example) and participants will plant their take-home boxes in themes, like herb garden or salad garden. Come Fair days, box gardens will be brought in for judging. Grow projects will be judged on their “point of growth” vs. biggest tomato or largest lettuce.
On the Home Arts front, Steffanic reported that Fair U (University) will be returning. Classes at Fair U were initiated years ago to inspire participation by teaching cake decorating, flower arranging, table décor, and several other fair category topics. The free event was a big hit in the community and is being revived after being stalled during Covid. A swell of activity during Fair U is anticipated to pump up fair entries once again for Fair 2023. “We want people to enter and will get on it early,” said Steffanic who will be touring schools and groups to encourage, inform, and boost community entries.
The California Measurement Standards inspector came for a visit and told Steffanic that only 12 fairs in the state bother to get a Weight Masters Certificate. The pros and cons were explained to the board of setting the scales with a commercial calibration or non-commercial. It matters because animals can be excluded from categories by weight. For example, if the scales are calibrated for a steer, plus or minus a pound, and then a goat is weighed at the same calibration, plus or minus a pound could be the difference between getting to compete or not. “The scales can be calibrated one way or the other,” said Steffanic, “and they can also be calibrated both ways.” No decision was made nor action initiated.
The Homegrown Americana Festival during the Labor Day weekend went better than expected after the Covid cancellation the previous year. “It went very well,” said Steffanic. “People came out of the woodwork at the last minute.” It was a hot weekend, and more was learned about how to alleviate heat discomfort for festival goers. “We will add more misters, a sprinkler, and move our shade covers to better use,” said Steffanic. This was the fourth year of the Plumas County original festival that has been growing progressively each year. The momentum hit a hiccup, as all things did, when it was cancelled during Covid. Attendance in 2022 was at year two level according to Steffanic who expects they will be up to year three levels again next year and continue to grow attendance.