Cumberland Fair: 4-H auction serious business for teen farmers

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CUMBERLAND — While many people their age attend the Cumberland Fair for fun, for North Yarmouth siblings John and Ashley Hayward it’s a hands-on education in an often make-it-or-break-it field.

John, who graduated from Greely High School last summer, and Ashley, a junior there, are bringing four lambs and a steer to this year’s 145th annual fair – which runs Sunday, Sept. 25, through Saturday, Oct. 1 – for the annual 4-H meat auction.

The event, to be held at the Show Arena of the 179 Blanchard Road fairgrounds at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, demonstrates the “food-to-table” concept in its purest sense: buyers can purchase pork, lamb and baby beef raised in Cumberland County by young 4-H members.

Bidders include grocery stores and restaurants, as well as private citizens, according to Christine McDuffie of North Yarmouth, whose grandchild is a 4-H member.

The “baby” beef, which are not small at all, were won in last year’s calf scramble by 4-H members who have spent the year caring for and feeding their animals, according to McDuffie. The pigs and lambs born last spring were raised by young farmers such as the Haywards, who put months of care, attention, and money into their animals, hoping to turn a profit while providing food for their neighbors.

Auction proceeds go to those 4-H members, who maintain careful records of expenses that include purchase of the animal, hay, grain, veterinary costs, and equipment. The experience offers a life lesson in gross versus net profit for a year’s worth of work, McDuffie said.

Once sold, the animals are taken at no charge to the Windham Butcher Shop, which will slaughter, cut and wrap them as desired for the winning bidders. The expense of that work is the buyer’s responsibility.

Buyers concerned about fitting all the meat in their freezer are encouraged to bid in groups, to split the cost and share the food.

It’s a way of life for John and Ashley, who bring their livestock to agricultural events throughout the country, earning a living and garnering a few awards along the way.

In an interview at his family’s North Road farm, John acknowledged there can be some attachment to the animals they’ve spent months fostering, “but it’s for a better cause in the end.”

“We’re putting food on people’s tables,” Ashley added.

Proceeds this year will also go toward medical treatment for a 21-year-old friend who has cancer.

“That’s what we look towards more at the end,” Ashley said. “Rather than seeing our friends go, we’ll see them providing for other people.”

“And providing for your future,” Lisa Hayward reminded her children. “John was able to purchase a four-wheeler, a snowmobile and a pickup truck over time, with his savings and earnings, from the time he was 9 years old when he had his first market lamb, to now. He’s been able to afford those things in life without a payment book, or a loan obligation, because he saved up the money.”

Still, she added, “the prices don’t compensate for the kids’ time,” and some youths lose money on their investment if their animals don’t sell high enough – perhaps they haven’t gained enough wait, or weigh too much – to at least recoup expenses. Or if they don’t sell at all.

John said he’s learned how to “use what we have to make it by. … I wouldn’t have half the things I have if I didn’t sell my market lambs, and people didn’t come support the auctions and donate their money to me.”

Despite what she and her brother learn in school, Ashley said, “we’re not learning stuff that we’re going to need to know for future references and the real world, with the things that we are passionate about.”

Their trade is one that not many people are going into, John noted.

“When it’s gone,” he said, “it’s gone.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

John and Ashley Hayward, who raise livestock on their family’s North Yarmouth farm, learn first-hand the lessons of investment, profit and loss when they take the animals they’ve raised to sell at events around the country. They’ll bring four lambs and a steer to the Cumberland Fair next week.

This year’s Cumberland Fair runs from Sunday, Sept. 25, to Saturday, Oct. 1.

New flair at the fair

CUMBERLAND — Change is in the air at the county’s annual celebration of its agricultural heritage.

Aiming to keep things fresh after 145 years, the Cumberland Fair – which runs Sunday, Sept. 25, through Saturday, Oct. 1, at 197 Blanchard Road – is launching a two-night monster truck show and introducing laser tag, while looking to boost participation in its parade by moving the event up in the week.

After three successful years with a rodeo, the fair decided to switch things up by turning toward motorized, rain-or-shine events like the “Monster Events!” truck show, which takes place in front of the grandstand at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, and Thursday, Sept. 29.

“I know it’s a hit, because I’ve been getting calls from lots of kids … that heard they might be able to get a ride in a monster truck,” fair President Mike Timmons said in an interview Sept. 14. “… We’re looking for a huge turnout on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.”

Last year’s fair drew in about 40,000 paying customers, Timmons said. That doesn’t include children 12 and younger, who get in for free.

Admission is $10 for those 13 and older, while seniors get in for $3 Tuesday and Thursday. Military personnel pay $3 on Monday. People can pay $15 to go on all the rides on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

A weekly admission pass costs $50, parking is free, and no pets except service animals are allowed. Log onto cumberlandfair.com for a full schedule of events.

A popular game since the 1980s, laser tag is also new to the fair this year. Maine-based G-Force Laser Tag lights things up in the Entertainment Building Wednesday through Saturday, running from noon throughout the day.

Also on tap is Sunday’s 27.5-foot dynamometer horse pull, which takes place at the Pulling Arena at 2 and 6 p.m. A dynamometer measures an engine’s power output, so horsepower is literally put to the test in this case.

This year’s grand parade will be held on Sunday’s first day, circling the race track at 10 a.m. The theme is “Our Heroes,” a nod in part to police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians.

Music includes the Don Campbell Band at noon Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Bob Charest Band at 6 p.m. Monday, the Larry Williams Band at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and Debbie Meyers at 5 p.m. Friday.

The demolition derby returns at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Maine Agriculture Day, in front of the grandstand. The Cumberland Fair Classic Car Show takes place on the race track at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Fireworks from Central Maine Pyrotechnics end the week with a bang in front of the grandstand at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

— Alex Lear

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.