FFA News

Okanogan County turns derailed 2020 fair into wildfire outreach

jaclyn krymowski


Adding salt to an already very wounded year, wildfires are blazing across more than a dozen Western states, devastating farmers, ranchers, and rural citizens from all walks of life. As we’ve seen time and time again, the ag community is already on top of the game sending love and support from all across the map.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic already rendered nearly everyone’s plans absolutely obsolete. All summer we’ve been talking about 4-H and FFA youth trying to make do with their derailed projects, shows and county fairs. One such example was the Okanogan County Fair in Washington state, which is on the front lines of the wildfire crisis, during what was supposed to be their fair week, no less. But amazingly, the people and youth of this county have responded in a tremendous way.

If you hop onto the fairgrounds’ Facebook page you will see they have quite literally opened their gates to displaced goats, sheep, horses, cows, and other large animals in need of immediate evacuation. In addition to a safe place, generous individuals donated supplies such as feed and other livestock care goods. For those needing assistance transporting animals, they even had people on standby with horse trailers ready to jump in and opened their full hookups for RVs needing a safe haven. They have also partnered with the American Red Cross, the Community Action Council, and the Omak Community Center to take donations for families in the community.

“Our local farmers and ranchers are devastated; our livestock people are hurting right now. We’ve lost pasture we’ve lost hay we’ve lost livestock. Three-thousand livestock are without feed right now,” Okanogan Fairgrounds Manager Naomi Peasley said in an interview with Matt Brechwald on an episode of the Off-Farm Income podcast. “We are just trying to figure out how to help people now and looking at what we can do to help them in the future.”

One regular vendor at the fair, Black Sheep Tees, donated shirts to the effort: a crisp gray T-shirt appropriately emblazoned with “Weathering the Firestorm – 2020 – North Central Washington.”

A small fair of only about 125 youth, the event’s staff was committed to keeping up with the online auction to allow them to still complete their projects even in the midst of a literal firestorm. A local bank even offered an add-on form the buyers, pledging up to $25 per youth to go to whatever needs the fairgrounds, barns, 4-H, and FFA programs might have.

Fortunately, this story is farm from unique. If you’re active on ag twitter or Facebook chances are you’ve seen many, many landowners enthusiastically offer up pasture space, hay, and transportation to those in need. There’s still plenty of time to contribute yourself, as farmers, ranchers, and livestock throughout the West have needs yet to be filled. You can visit the Okanogan County Fair’s Facebook page for ways to help and check out other organizations who are on the front lines. Hay and feed are extremely needed right now, and there are many ways individuals and communities all across the country can contribute.


Jaclyn Krymowski is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic agvocate, professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.

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