Perspectives Online

Animal Science Club students advocate for agriculture with their State Fair activities

Working in the steak wagon are students Brittney McLamb and Ethan Henderson.
Photo by Art Latham

Over fall break in October, while other N.C. State students were catching up on sleep at home, students in the Animal Science Club were working at the North Carolina State Fair, setting up the three sites they helped coordinate during the 10-day run of the fair.

The 150-member club in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences works closely with other clubs in the Animal Science Department to coordinate a booth in the Exposition Center where kids can milk a cow and get a sample of the pasteurized product.

At the milking booth, Emma Davis assists a young visitor.
Photo by Art Latham
With the N.C. Cattlemen’s Association, the club cooks and sells steak sandwiches outside the Jim Graham Building. And inside the Expo Center, the club manages “The Ark,” where prize-winning animals and other livestock are on display. The group is paid by the State Fair for its services at the Ark.

In addition, more than 40 students enter N.C. State livestock — beef and dairy cattle, swine and meat goats — in State Fair judging competitions, which bring prize premiums back to the club. About 25 others serve as ringmasters for the junior livestock shows.

For their hard work during the fair, the club takes in about $30,000 after expenses, money that is channeled back into the club’s coffers for student scholarships, conferences, charitable activities and expenses for their fundraising efforts. The club has a $40,000 endowment that supports six $750 scholarships each year.

Organizing students to work at the three venues is an undertaking in itself, but club members have proven up to the challenge. Club President Ted Clayton, a senior agricultural education major, says officers begin “preaching” State Fair involvement from the beginning of the year.

And it pays off. “We have a log jam to sign up to work,” Clayton says.

At any given time, there are approximately 20 Animal Science Club members working the three State Fair venues from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. In 2006, club members gave 4,900 contact hours to the fair effort.

The activities at the fair are more than just a chance to raise money. Club members feel that they are helping advocate for agriculture. “It all boils down to promoting agriculture,” said Anna Wiest, a senior animal science and agricultural education major.

“We serve an educational role,” Clayton said. “Because most of society is four to five generations off the farm, they don’t know much about agriculture.”

Students say the Ark animals in particular draw a lot of interest, with 8,000 to more than 10,000 people visiting that area of the fair every day. People are drawn to the mother sow and baby pigs. Students say they get many questions about the Brahman cattle, a breed native to India that has a hump on its back and long, floppy ears.

“We’re glad to pass our knowledge along,” Clayton said. “It’s critical to educate the public, and at the fair, we reach a large number of people.”

In addition, club members feed and water the animals, clean their stalls and try to keep visitors at a safe distance from the animals.

Rebecca Craig (left) and Davis clean the cow stall at the milking booth.
Photo by Art Latham
At the club’s milking booth nearby, kids pay $2 to milk a dairy cow the old-fashioned way, with the help of club students. Lines for the milking booth snake through the Expo Center all day and into night. It’s yet another way the club helps an urban population reconnect with its agricultural roots.

On the first day of fall break, club coordinators were putting in hours at the fair setting up for opening the following day. The coordinators are responsible for overseeing all three State Fair projects and organizing the volunteers. The experience is good leadership training for these coordinators, adviser Dale Miller says. He is quick to step aside and let them share their experiences.

The fair is not the club’s only activity, by a long shot. Members are involved throughout the school year in a variety of educational, service and social activities. Another favorite club activity is the popular Farm Animal Days, a spring event that draws thousands of young children to encounters with farm animals at the College’s Lake Wheeler Road Beef Education Unit.

Though the fair is time-consuming and lots of hard work, the students comment on how the experience makes a large club seem smaller. When the fair is over, the club takes about 100 members out to dinner to celebrate their hard work.

Clayton recalls working the milking booth his first year in the club. “I felt I was contributing to something worthwhile,” he said.

“When members come to the fair, they enjoy the club that much more,” said Callie McAdams, a junior majoring in animal science and agricultural business. “We interact at the fair with lots of members, and we get to talk with other students we don’t normally talk with.”

“It’s definitely worth it,” said Morgan Lee, sophomore animal science major.

— Natalie Hampton