By Jack Riordan
As the mercury rises each summer in the Valley of the Sun, July begins to melt into August, and anxious kids and their families start gearing up for the annual Ramona Junior Fair.
Many have walked the decorated aisles of livestock, poultry, goats and pigs with visions of bacon cheeseburgers dancing though our heads, but have they ever stopped to take notice of just what may be involved in putting on such a traditional and diverse event?
The 2009 Ramona Junior Fair theme is “Come Rock With The Stock” and this year’s volunteer efforts have definitely been rockin’. The Ramona Junior Fair has been in existence since the early 1970s and this year marks its 38th year of providing fun and education to fair participants and spectators alike.
This year’s junior fair kicks off Saturday and Sunday, July 25 and 26, with the Dog Show and Rabbit & Cavy Show on Saturday and the Horse Show on Sunday. Activities continue all next week with sheep, goats, poultry, swine, beef, dairy cattle and more, with the grand finale—the livestock auction—on Aug. 1. All events will be in the Ramona Junior Fairgrounds at 431 Aqua Lane off Fifth Street.
The junior fair’s roots run deep, back to when it was known as the North County Fair and was held at Kit Carson Park in San Pasqual.
A lot can change over the course of 38 years, but one thing that has remained consistent with the RJF is the commitment put forth each year by the legion of volunteers who make it all possible.
Of course, when one thinks of the event, it’s of the animals on display, the vendors and their goods, and the always popular Home Ec entries, but the preparation for this event starts months in advance not only for the participants and their entries, but for the volunteers who prepare the grounds each year. Large sets of bleachers need to be relocated from their year-round homes around the fairgrounds and into the showing areas. Scales must be calibrated and certified by officials, and loading pens must be maintained and repaired as need be.
This year, as the sun beats down around town, you may find yourself cooling off in the shade under one of 19 tarps suspended above the grounds to provide much-needed relief from the heat. Anyone taking a closer look at those old green tarps will notice that each one is secured to its frame by literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of twine carefully tied through each eyehole in the tarp. This is no small feat, though it is accomplished by some pretty small hands.
The junior fair has two old bread trucks that may have seen better days, but they are just as useful in their new capacity as they were in their past. Attached to the roofs of these trucks is a railed-off platform that can hold as many volunteers as are brave enough to climb up top. Armed with pre-cut lengths of twine (they use the picnic tables to measure), the volunteers, mostly local youths from 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America), literally spend several days tying off twine to support the massive tarps.
RJF Board Member Jim Robinson proudly said that they hung seven tarps in just one night, surely a record.
The number of entries to the fair can fluctuate from year to year, so a few more cows here, or a few less rabbits there rarely raise an eyebrow. What has caught the attention of those in the know this year is the number of entries dedicated to the Home Economics portion of the junior fair.
This division features an array of entries ranging from needlework and quilting, to baked goods and preserves to ceramics, handcrafts, photography and flowers. The Home Ec rush is well-timed, though, as one of the major differences at this year’s Fair is the Home Ec building itself.
The corrugated steel walls and ceilings are not gone, but rather have been hidden by a tremendous amount of work put in by many volunteers, as well as some heavy lifting and craftsmanship provided by Bill Dolan and his construction crew. New drywall and insulation meet a new drop-in ceiling, which encases what is sure to be a hit at this year’s junior fair—a brand new air conditioning system. The much-improved Home Ec room will house all of this year’s entries.
Some improvements are still planned and in the works, such as new flooring and a counter and sink. These may not be ready in time for this year’s event, but what’s been done is a huge step up from what it used to be.
The volunteers exude a sense of pride. It is a huge task to prepare for one of Ramona’s longest-standing traditions. After everything it takes to prepare for the junior fair, and after nine days and nights of showings, events, auctions and awards presentations it would be easy for the volunteers to just grab what’s theirs and head for the hills. But the all-volunteer force sticks around to help break down the tarps and pens and chutes and ladders, everything back to its proper place to wait for next summer.
Last year’s crew set the bar awfully high by taking just one full day to clean up what had taken weeks to set up.
So this year, as individuals and families enjoy the shade, or sip a cool beverage offered by one of the various 4-H club vendors, take a moment to look at the details. You will see that the Ramona Junior Fair is supported and held together by folks young and old who understand the importance of this community tradition, and donate their time to make it happen.
For a roundup of junior fair activities and events, go online to www.ramonajuniorfair.com.