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The Small-But-Mighty Hidden Valley FFA Heads to the Revitalized Josephine County Fair

Just a few short years ago, the Josephine County Fairgrounds was on the brink of extinction. Some would say Josephine County’s Future Farmers of America program is showing signs of dwindling as well, with only one group remaining in the County—Hidden Valley. But as we head into Fair season—August 19-22—the Josephine County Fairgrounds and the Hidden Valley FFA demonstrate that the younger generation can hoe the row as well as the agriculturalists of yesteryear.

Dan Speelman has been teaching agriculture classes and leading the lone Hidden Valley FFA countyfair1group for the past 13 years, having worked for his family-owned Alpine Meat Company for 22 years before that. The North Valley FFA program was shut down in the 1980s, says Speelman, and the Illinois Valley program ended three years ago.

“We are the last program,” he says. “It is tough competing against sports for time and
attention.”

But he says there is still a place for FFA in this generation and in Josephine County.

“We are different from 4H, which is all geared around Fair,” he says. “If kids have market animals, they are geared to Fair, which is the most visible project to have. A project can be a supervised agricultural experience, which is kids raising animals for Fair, but they can also
work for people, do research for college or learn to keep good records. There are hundreds of ways kids can be in agriculture.”

This year sees the smallest group to the Fair—the nine students are showing swine, sheep, steer and rabbits—but the kids involved have been very involved, even on the state level, and Speelman has high hopes for the new kids coming into Hidden Valley in the fall.

“In our area, FFA isn’t as well known,” he says. “Nationwide, there are 600,000 in the program. Out of the 36 counties in Oregon, we are number 35 in agriculture revenue. There are very few kids here that are involved in agriculture.”

But Speelman says that a big part of FFA is learning about leadership.

“Some of the most popular programs that the FFA has are public speaking, procedure and running a meeting to Robert’s Rules of Order which aren’t designed to make you a better farmer, but to use these skills in life and competition,” Speelman says. So yeah, a bit old school.

But Speelman makes sure to keep the kids up on modern technology as well. The group is not federally funded. Speelman says that the group is “pretty much self-sufficient” through fundraising. They do get Perkins funds, which is a federal program, for new technology.

Currently, they are working on getting all of their records and the kids’ projects online. Another plan Speelman has for those funds is experimenting with tissue culture, basically plants in test tubes.

Other big endeavors for the FFA kids include a soil judging competition in the fall, meat judging contest in the spring, their horticultural efforts coming to fruition for their annual Mother’s Day plant sale, business creation and their public speaking and parliamentary
procedures.

fair2Even if Josephine County’s FFA following is small, the 11 schools in Jackson County and the surrounding areas that compete with the Hidden Valley FFA are booming. But the Hidden Valley group has plenty to keep them busy. They have their own flock of sheep and three greenhouses, one of which Speelman built with the kids. And they travel to state and national FFA conventions.

Speelman has seen students from the Hidden Valley FFA program go on to actually be farmers, but he says, “nationwide, less than 2 percent end up in production agriculture.” Though Speelman also notes that nationwide, people are paying more attention to agriculture and how it affects them.

“People want to see where their food is coming from. It is a good trend,” he says.

He also notes that it is good for the younger generation to grow out of the disconnect society has had with their food in recent years.

“They don’t automatically go from their cages to your table; there is a process there,” he says.

Speaking of process, it seems as though the process that the Fairgrounds has been following is bearing fruit.

The 101-year-old Josephine County Fairgrounds has quite the entertaining and modern line up for the Fair this year. From sea lions, to a rodeo, to an OMSI tent, to a jousting competition, along with all the standard exhibits, it may be tough for folks to fit it all in four days.

And it isn’t just the Fair that is looking good, the Fairgrounds itself is seeing improvements
left and right. Interim Fairgrounds Director Mary Groves says that they are finally back where they want to be.

“It took me three years to get it here, but I got it here and it was the biggest challenge of my life,” she says. “We are in the black and fixing things that have been broken for so long. Now it is up, up and away for us.”

Josephine County Fair
Wednesday-Saturday, August 19-22
Josephine County Fairgrounds, 1451 Fairgrounds Road, Grants Pass
Wed.—$5, adults. $3, kids 6-12. Thurs.-Sat.—$9, adults. $5, kids 6-12.
Armbands $20 until Aug. 14, $30 after.

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