Coming Together to Support the Kids

Over the Labor Day weekend, I was treated to a heartwarming show of what "community" means in a small town in New Mexico.

Last week, I participated in a spirituality retreat in New Mexico. I learned quite a bit, but for me it was also a valuable reinforcement of the things I've learned over the last 8 months.

The retreat was supposed to last from Friday through mid-afternoon Sunday, but by Saturday afternoon my brain was full. Not one more shred of information could fit in there! I needed a break, a walk in the desert maybe, something outdoorsy and not too mentally taxing. I decided that Sunday I would visit a nearby National Monument and enjoy the scenery. That sounded about my speed.

Sunday morning came and I was out there on the trail enjoying the scenery and history of the area. Up behind me walked a man who seemed to be about my age, maybe a bit older. We chatted a bit. He asked if I'd like to walk with him so we could continue our conversation. He seemed interesting, fun, and harmless so I said "Sure." We continued along and at the end of the short walk he asked me if I'd like to accompany him to a local county fair, which I gladly agreed to. I loved fairs as a kid so I wanted a chance to see one out here, in the Southwestern US. We both drove separately over to the fairgrounds and started walking around.

Now, I haven't been to a county fair since the late 1980s, and that was in Illinois. There, the fairs lasted for at least a week and always bustled with thousands of people and even more farm animals. Events, games, and rides were going on all over the huge fairgrounds and there was no way one person could take everything in. Big, busy, noisy, and fun - that's how I remember county fairs from the midwest.

This little fair, out in rural New Mexico, was tiny in comparison. Makes sense considering the sparse population of the area, but it took me by surprise all the same. There was no midway, no rides, no games. There was a small poultry barn, some stalls for goats, sheep, pigs, and steers, a small rodeo area, and that's about it.

But what this little fair lacked in size it made up for in heart.

The only thing going on at the time we arrived was the junior livestock auction in the small, covered arena, so that's where we ended up for the afternoon. This event is where kids under 13 years old who were members of 4-H sold off the animals they had raised that year as part of their participation in the program. The kids were about an even mix of Indian, White, and Spanish, as was the small crowd of buyers.

We watched as these small kids, mostly girls, paraded their animals in front of the buying crowd while the auctioneer did an amazing job getting top dollar from the buyers. These little girls manhandled their 1200 lb steers and 300 lb hogs better than most adults! All of the animals were sparkling clean and adorned with ribbons, glitter, and sometimes a little paint. I'd never seen such pretty farm animals!

The way this worked is that the kids would benefit directly from the sale of their animal, as would their 4-H chapter. The buyer would go home with the animal either to continue raising it (usually for breeding, milk production, or even wool), or more often, to slaughter the animal for the freezer.

Indirectly, the entire community benefited from the kids' participation in the program. Rural New Mexico isn't exactly the Berkshires. Poverty is rampant, money tight for many families, and job opportunities are limited. The skills these kids learned in 4-H would better prepare them for a productive life as adults, and the money would be used to raise next year's animals. This program and auction is good for them, their families, and the community.

Over the afternoon, I noticed something really interesting and heartwarming. These animals were consistently going for top dollar, and in a very rural, poverty-ridden area no less. Most folks here didn't have a lot of money, but those who did shelled out, and gladly. I calculated it - the steers and hogs destined for the freezer would likely cost the buyer as much or more per pound (after processing) than simply going to the grocer and buying a cut of meat. Lambs were going for $800+ a head. Hogs $3/lb and up (mostly up). Same with steers. Some of the steers would cost their buyers upwards of $2500!

But the cost of the animal wasn't the point of the auction. It wasn't just about the money - it was to support the kids in the 4-H program. And this little town supported the kids with gusto! Not one animal went unsold. Not one animal was sold for rock-bottom prices. Buyers and sellers benefited.

And you want to know what warmed my heart even more?

Several of the buyers of hogs and steers donated the animal (after processing) to the local children's home/orphanage so that the kids there would have good food to eat for the next year.


Many thousands of dollars of pasture-raised steer and hog were gifted to the kids who needed it most.  And yes, I got choked up.

Taking care of each other - that's what "community" is all about. And community is something many of us in the big city are lacking today.

I am grateful to have seen this - it warmed my heart and gave me hope the there are still many parts of this world where people stick together and help each other.

All content copyright Nancy Rynes, 2014. Please read disclaimer and Legal Notes here.