Zoie Boling wanted to make the most of the cattle show at the Gwinnett County Fair this year.
As a senior at Banks County High School, it’s her last chance to show before heading off to North Georgia Technical College.
“I still get a little nervous before a show,” she said. “When I get in there, I know what I’m doing, though.”
Boling, who has been showing cattle since she was old enough at 8, was one of the older participants at the fair. Friday evening, her Angus cow Dreamer was on display. The contest is sort of a livestock beauty contest. The animals are trotted out, judged on their composure, posture and how well they conform to grooming standards.
Eleven-year-old Luke Huff of Oglethorpe County pulled his red dairy cow, Rosie, off a trailer and onto a scale where she was weighed in. He’s president of his 4-H club at Oglethorpe County Middle School. Every student entering an animal in a livestock competition is either a member of 4-H or the Future Farmers of America. Huff is a member of both.
He, his father and sister — Camden isn’t of cattle-show age yet but has her own hogs she takes to livestock shows — were talking to Gwinnett County Fair Livestock Chairman John H. Lovin. He has a chicken farm in Oglethorpe County and was trying to talk Luke into showing bulkier, stubborn Angus cattle over the dairy cows on the Huff farm now.
“If you keep it at your house, I’ll show it,” Luke said.
Ten years ago, there may have been a few Gwinnett County students enter livestock into contests at the Gwinnett County Fair. Those days are gone and don’t appear to be returning.
Gwinnett County Public Schools prioritizes Career and Technical Education at its schools. Many are academies dedicated to STEM. A new school, McClure Health Sciences High School, is focused on the healthcare industry. Central Gwinnett, a few miles from the fairgrounds, will soon have a conservatory for fine arts. Currently, Gwinnett County Public Schools have no active Future Farmers of America clubs. Student interest has dwindled and the future of many of Gwinnett County’s students is in technology fields.
Gwinnett County hosts a 4-H and Youth Development Club through the University of Georgia extension services, but its members don’t typically participate in showing livestock.
Lovin, a graduate of Central Gwinnett High School, lhas ived in Gwinnett County since 2002. He’s partial to raising Angus cattle as opposed to dairy cows like the one Luke was handling. He and his wife tour shows throughout the state. Some of the best memories he’s had are with his father at livestock shows. Agriculture is the thing he knows best.
Lovin said livestock shows and organizations such as FFA and 4-H teach kids responsibility and train them for a possible career path, but they also provide families with an activity they can bond over.
“Each generation that passes is not related to the farm like my mom and dad, especially now with development — not just in this area — but in the state of Georgia,” Lovin said. “Even though agriculture is still the leading job in the state, it’s not like it was when everybody still had some sense to own a farm.”
Gwinnett County Fair director Bill Atkinson said it’s gotten harder to attract kids to livestock shows. The Gwinnett County Fair is the second-largest show in the state — second to Perry County’s Fair — so it’s still able to fill stalls with contestants every year.
“You visit the schools, you talk to people and you show your appreciation for them when they’re here, and they want to come back,” Atkinson said.
In 1972, the Gwinnett County Fair moved from a plot of land on Five Forks Trickum Road to its current location at the fairgrounds in Lawrenceville. At the time, the fair needed more room for expansion.
An agricultural census is conducted in Georgia every five years, the last one in 2017. The Georgia Farm Bureau said the 2017 census indicated a .4% increase in the amount of farms in Georgia since 2012. Georgia’s number of small (10-179 acres) and mid-size (180-999 acres) farms decreased while micro-farms (1 to 9 acres) showed a significant increase and large farms (1,000 acres or more) showed a slight increase.
Georgia’s more than 42,000 farms in 2017 was down from 6,904 farms since the 1997 ag census and 1.35 million acres of land being farmed.
Lovin and Atkinson said that the changing landscape of Gwinnett County and the wealth of other things that attract kids’ attention makes it harder to attract them to livestock shows. They’re proud, though, of the students who attend each year. And the fair still provides field trip opportunities for local pre-K students.
“Everything we do here is for the kids,” Atkinson said.