Growing up in an agricultural area like the Imperial Valley can bring some hard lessons for kids. One of them is the sometimes bitter-sweet conflict between attachment to an animal, and commerce. KPBS reporter Nicole Lozare has the story.
Imagine a teenager walking into a bank and asking for a $500 loan. Sure, in other parts of the country that money might buy a new iPod touch. But here in El Centro, where agriculture is king, that’s the going price of a young sheep or pig.
And every spring, the business of farm animals is on the mind of nearly 700 teens around here. At the Imperial Valley Fair’s livestock auction, these future farmers are hoping to turn that $500 into some serious profit.
Carbajal: He’s weighing 1278, and well, if I get about $1.50 a pound then I’ll be able to pay it off.
Rudy Carbajal got a $1,500 loan for his steer. Like Rudy, most of the kids say they’ll pay the loan off first. Then . . .
Carbajal: Get the rest of the money for college, save it.
And like most businesses, you win some and you lose some. This is Leslie Palomino’s third year.
Palomino: The first year I had a feeder calf and I didn’t get enough money to pay the loan, but I tried again and I got a lamb. This is my second year with a lamb. Last year I did better but I didn’t get much money for myself.
Lozare: You were able to pay off that loan?
Palomino:Yeah, that’s the good thing.
Depending on how much their animal brings at the auction, these teens can make hundreds of dollars. If their animals don’t do well, then they’re lucky to get enough to pay off the loan. Organizer Bill Gay says the community tries really hard to make sure every animal is sold.
He admits that local farmers pay way more than market price to help the kids out. Last year’s animal sales came in at $1.3 million.
Jeff Martin’s family has been in the cattle business for three generations. He says the annual auction taught his son responsibility and business sense. But the kids also learn some hard lessons.
Martin: The kids understand it’s a business, and you don’t get attached to things because you don’t make any money getting attached to things. It’s that area.
That’s not always easy to do. Kids like Rudy can spend as much as 300 hours with their animal. And that creates a bond.
Rudy: Every morning we have to give him feed, in the afternoon after school I spend about two to three hours with him, showering him, cleaning his pen, walking him training him for showmanship.
On show day, the young farmers are dressed in white. A green tie or scarf means they are a member of Four-H. Navy blue jackets are worn by Future Farmers of America.
Minutes before showing her pig McLovin, Tabitha Piper removes the wet towel she laid over the animal to keep him cool and relaxed.
Piper: I’m kind of nervous right now, but I don’t know why. This is my eighth year doing this. But I always get butterflies. I’m pretty sure I’ll do good.
Showtime also means goodbye. Soon, animal and caretaker must part.
Piper: I hope he doesn’t go to slaughter.. but I can’t stop it. I’ve gotten really attached. So it will be hard.
Lozare: How are you preparing yourself for it?
Piper: Just spending more time with her, the last days that we have together.
Nicole Lozare, KPBS News.