FFA barn tours showcase pet-able, edible farm animals

HARRINGTON — After an almost 10 year hiatus the Delaware Association of Agriscience Educators and Delaware Future Farmers of America (FFA) Association have brought back youth-led barn tours at the Delaware State Fair.

Organizers hope the tours will help explain the procedure of showing animals at the fair and address commonly asked questions.

“We wanted to revamp the system for educating our fair visitors on how animals and produce were prepared for exhibiting at the fair,” said Delaware’s FFA executive secretary Amanda Powell,

“As exhibitors, we are often asked a lot of questions about the process of preparation and showing by fair guests and we felt offering the tours would provide the best educated answers.”

Lake Forest High School Junior, Abby Edwards, is one of the 14 “Ag Ambassadors” that have been leading tours since last Monday. Admittedly, she said attendance got off to a slow start, but as fairgoers realized the tours are available, interest has risen.

Lake Forest High School Junior, Abby Edwards, is one of the 14 “Ag Ambassadors” that have been leading Delaware State Fair Bar tours for Future Farmers of America (FFA) since last Monday. The barn tours are free and take place every night of the fair until Saturday, starting at 5 p.m. and running till 8 p.m. Fairgoers interested in a tour can meet guides at the barnyard next to the agriculture commodities building — tours start every 30 minutes.
(Delaware State News/Ian Gronau)

“On Monday night, when the fair opened, we unfortunately didn’t have anyone — but last night I led a tour that had about 10 to 12 people in it,” Abby said on Wednesday.

During tours, Abby explains to guests all that goes into showing various farm animals — mostly pigs, cows and goats — at the fair and what criteria judges use to select prize winners.

“There is a lot that goes into showing animals, for instance, for cows especially someone has to be watching them constantly to makes sure they don’t overheat,” she said.

William Phipps shows a lamb to the Milford Boys & Girls club kids during a FFA Barn Tour at the Delaware State Fair on Tuesday. (Delaware State News Photo/Marc Clery)

“Of course, that means always making sure they have enough water. For pigs, you can hose them down when they get hot because they don’t sweat. But because cows sweat, you’re better off making sure fans are aimed at them.”

Abby has been showing animals at the fair since she was 12 — starting with pygmy goats. She’s shown her own animals and the animals of family friends, but this year, she showed off a 233-pound crossbred gilt hog as part of a school project.

“We’re really thankful to have a huge Ag program at my school,” she said. “We have pastures, several acres, a barn and a shop where we do ag mechanics. The six hogs that were part of this project were born in February and six students including myself paid a fee to be a part of the process.”

Kylie Pusey, 9, during the Dairy Goat Milking Contest at the Delaware State Fair on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Abby showed her hog, Brandi, at the market on Sunday and elected to have it sent off to Sudlersville Meat Locker to be butchered. Her family will receive several cuts of the meat they’d signed up for in advance. The next time Abby sees Brandi, it’ll be as pork chops.

“It’s hard to send it off like that when you’ve built a relationship with an animal, but at the same time, it’s all part of the process,” said Abby.

“That’s one of the things I like to see if I can explain to kids on our tours. They love to pet the animals and talk about how ‘cute’ they are which is fun and great, but it’s so important for people to have a connection and understanding with where their food actually comes from.

Meredith Schiff, 8, of Harrington with her cow before the Dairy Cattle Show in the Quillen Arena at the Delaware State Fair on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“These days it seems like a lot of people have sort of gotten away from that and sort of distance themselves from how food is grown and prepared.”

The barn tours are part education, part outreach, because a side mission for guides is to make visitors without an agricultural background aware of all the projects FFA fosters.

Guides like Abby, who’s been part of FFA since 6th grade, feel that their experiences with the organization have opened their eyes to all sorts of new experiences. She’s now an FFA Kent County representative — a step below being a state-level officer which she hopes to be one day. After completing high school, she plans to attend Delaware Technical Community College through the SEED program and transfer into a university to study environmental science and agricultural education with the aims of eventually becoming a teacher.

“FFA changed my life,” she said. “I hope to show kids that aren’t from an ag background that there are a ton of great experiences here for them to have and there are a lot of transferable public speaking, business, farming and other life skills that they can learn by being a part of it.”

The barn tours are free and take place every night of the fair until Saturday, starting at 5 p.m. and running till 8 p.m.

Fairgoers interested in a tour can meet guides at the barnyard next to the agriculture commodities building — tours start every 30 minutes.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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