- July 18, 2018
For the last seven years, Hendrix Paterson has been involved with FFA, and for all of those years, he has shown animals annually at the Central Florida Fair.
Paterson, now a senior at Windermere High School, serves as the school’s FFA president — as well as the District VII president — and sits on the fair’s junior board. His mom, Amy Paterson, is an ag teacher at the school herself.
Both Hendrix Paterson and Amy Paterson are well invested in the fair — along with FFA and 4-H members around Orange County and the surrounding counties. It’s a time in which they get the chance to showcase the animals they’ve helped raise, while they complete projects and raise money at the annual auction.
So, needless to say, when they learned the Central Florida Fairgrounds were in dire need of $30,000 in funding to finish construction around the new pavilion — otherwise, there would be no livestock show — the Patersons and the FFA and 4-H communities were thrown for a loop.
“The junior board found out, I’d probably say about August,” Hendrix Paterson said. “But it’s been on everyone’s mind with everything going on with COVID — everyone is kind of struggling, but that’s when they kind of broke the news to us that, ‘Hey, we really have to band together to get these funds raised.’
“And the fair is so much more than a fair for a couple of people — there are so many people that have so much money and time invested into animals and projects,” he said. “It would really be horrible if it didn’t happen this year. So, we knew from the start when they said, ‘This has got to get done,’ that we are really going to have to put our feet to the pavement and get out there and try to get some money for this fair.”
Although the new, 40,000-square-foot facility was finished earlier this year to replace the 33-year old Livestock Pavilion, the arrival of COVID-19 led to the loss of funding for items such as perimeter fencing, tie-out areas for animals and core drilling to secure panels that are needed to safely and efficiently put on the event.
The main way the CFF is raising money is through its Buy a Brick Campaign. Supporters and businesses can buy name-customized bricks to support the Youth Livestock Program. That campaign ends Tuesday, Dec. 15. There also will be a barbecue fundraiser Saturday, Dec. 5, at Country Lane Barn.
But in the first email sent to folks Saturday, Nov. 3, it wasn’t exactly clear just how dire the situation was, said West Orange High School ag teacher Kristy Lightbody.
“We’re assuming everything is breezing along,” Lightbody said. “We did steer weigh-in, and they’re sending us emails about pig weigh-in. Why would we think that there were actual issues that could potentially prevent it? It’s almost one of those things where we don’t quite really know what’s going on. It’s like, ‘Do you really, really need it? Or are y’all just wanting us to push harder with these brick sales?’ I honestly don’t know what the intention was behind the original email, but it definitely sent a lot of people into a huge panic.”
Two days later — on Nov. 5 — Lightbody said they received a second email clarifying the situation, and it was then when they knew it would take quick action. Lightbody said she would have appreciated knowing about it sooner.
Despite the late notice, it’s not an option to let the fair — planned for March 4 to 14, 2021 — go without the livestock show, she said.
“I wish it would have come across better, but ultimately, they got the desired effect — it lit a fire under all of us,” Lightbody said. “We all jumped in and sprung into action, because the livestock part of the fair has to happen. … We all can’t let it not happen.”
Students involved with FFA and 4-H started the process of getting ready for the fair months ago, and with the CFF being the lone fair in the county, it would be tough to watch all that hard work go to waste, said Ocoee High School ag teacher Amy Anderson.
“This is it for the Orange County students, so if they don’t have the Central Florida Fair, we don’t have a fair to show in,” Anderson said. “We don’t have a lot of money — our kids invest in their steer projects — and I would say every single kid with me … they’re paying for their own feed and they’re doing what they have to do to make ends meet.
“So it would just suck that we’ve already invested money in it and for them not to have a normal fair because everything has kind of been crazy with COVID, and it’s just like, one more thing that gets taken away from them,” she said.