Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — The Jefferson County Fair auction was held Monday night at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and raised more than $100,000 for the county’s 4-H and FFA livestock exhibitors.
That amount is even higher than the impressive figure raised in 2020 when the auction generated just shy of $80,000 for the youth, double the year before.
The secret to such successful auctions in back-to-back years seems to be from moving the auction from the Monday morning after the county fair to Monday evening. For many years, Jefferson County 4-H and FFA members would bring their animals to the show arena at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds for local bidders to see. The bidders weren’t actually buying the animal but instead were making a donation to that particular 4-H or FFA member, giving them extra cash to use toward purchasing feed or the animal they would show at next year’s fair.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Jefferson County Fair Board to alter the 2020 county fair and the auction. Instead of spending the whole week at the fairgrounds as they traditionally had, livestock spent just one night in the barns and left immediately after their show. This meant the exhibitors had no animals to parade through the show arena for the Monday auction.
But even before the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, an auction committee had been formed to think of ways to alter the auction to create more community engagement and attract more bidders. The committee moved the auction from the morning to the evening, called people and knocked on doors to remind them to attend, and added a meal to the event, which this year was served by the Jefferson County Pork Producers. The success of the auction in 2020 was the silver lining to an otherwise disappointing year for the fair where the carnival and grandstand events had to be canceled.
Drew Johnson, a member of the auction committee, said the frequent rain put a damper on this year’s fair.
“It was an up and down week, and I was a little nervous about how Monday night would go because the weather-limited attendance,” he said. “But it was sure nice to wrap up the fair on a positive note.”
Johnson sold pigs in this auction when he was a boy, so he knows how important programs like 4-H and FFA are for connecting kids to their community. He said the bank he works for, Libertyville Savings Bank, supports the sale, which he views as a kind of investment.
“A kid who goes through that ring may come back and be a lender at the bank someday,” he said. “I asked one of my customers, ‘How did you end up at Libertyville Savings Bank?’ He said the bank bought his calf at the fair auction, so he opened a checking account here and never left.”
Gretchen McLain chaired the auction committee this year and was thrilled to see it generate so much money. Not only that, but she loved how the 4-H and FFA members interacted with the bidders. Some of them made posters showing their animal, or they brought trophies they won during the fair.
“A lot of times, that FFA or 4-H member gave their poster to the person who purchased their ribbon as a little thing to take with them,” McLain said.
McLain thanked the businesses that participated in the auction, and added that the 4-H’ers and FFA members benefited from the auction in non-monetary ways, too.
“Some of our kids are 9 years old, and they’re shaking hands with business owners and communicating with people who have a common interest,” McLain said. “This provides the kids a great opportunity for learning. Hopefully, this is a start to their career in agriculture.”