Supporting Youth Agriculture

Aug 22, 2017

Part 1: Tradition, Values and Memories Made at the Washington County Agricultural Fair 

2009 Washington County Fair Eleven years ago, Range Resources was increasing its activity in Washington County, the company's Chief Operating Officer Ray Walker was looking for opportunities to support the community. When he found out about the Junior Livestock Auction at the Washington County Agricultural Fair, he immediately wanted to go. Today, the Fair is a summer tradition for Range employees and over the past decade, Range and its service company partners have donated over $1 million in support of agricultural education for students in Washington County. But back when it first caught Walker's attention, what was then a much smaller group of Range employees weren't yet connected with the Fair.  

“I asked one of our Landmen, 'what does Range do? Do we buy the Grand Champion?' Because that's pretty standard-practice at companies in other parts of the country where I had worked, supporting the kids and grandkids of leaseholders who are selling animals at the local county fair.” But as Walker remembers, the Washington County Landman just looked puzzled. “So I said, 'well, I'm gonna go, and spend some money!'”  

Walker made his way to the auction, and made good on his promise. “I think I bought all the Grand Champions that year,” he recalls. It was a means of introducing Range Resources to the community, but even more importantly, an opportunity to meet local young people and families whose stories were very familiar to Walker. “Growing up on a farm, I always participated in county fairs and showed animals, but we could never afford the type of animal that would ever win. So I finally got to have my picture taken with the Grand Champion!”  

The Grand Champions were among several animals Walker purchased that year. “I bought quite a few, including the very last animal to go through the ring in every class, to support the kids who were the last ones through. And then what really threw everybody for a loop, was I donated all the animals back to the scholarship fund, which meant they could go through the ring a second time, and be sold again.” 

That initial overture to Junior Livestock Auction participants set the stage for what has become one of the company's most important corporate partnerships. Over the last ten years, Range Resources and dedicated service company partners have contributed over $1 million to the Junior Livestock Auction in support of the students, programs, and scholarships offered by FFA and 4H; and that total is set to rise once again this year.   

In addition to monies raised, it's been a decade of memories made. “I think it was our second year, and the Grand Champion hog was going through the ring, and of course the hogs sell by the pound. And they're 300 or 400 pound animals.” Walker saw another bidder raise his hand.  “I think the student was his grand-nephew, something like that.  And he says 'fifty-five' so then I raised my hand and said 'sixty'. Well once the guy raised his hand again I said 'I'm out.' He kept going though, and at the end he was up to 300 dollars. What he didn't realize though, was that meant 300 dollars a pound. Finally, somebody grabbed his arm and set him straight, and he looked like he might faint.  Because now you're talking about a really high-priced pig!”

The organizers came to Ray and asked if he'd be willing to help out. “I told them I'd pay two-thousand dollars, and they agreed to make it happen. And everybody in the audience was really relieved, because the poor guy clearly was not in a position to pay the amount he'd accidentally bid for that pig!” 

Walker also recalls finding out in those early years that it was tradition for the late Frank Sarris, of Sarris Candies, to buy the Grand Champion lamb. “His right-hand man very politely approached me to let me know and I said 'well, all right. But it's gonna cost him!' And of course it was all in good fun, with the ultimate goal being to raise money for the kids who were showing their animals at the Fair.”  

McGuffey High School FFA Advisor Renee Cambruzzi has been teaching in Washington County for nearly nine years. She's seen how Range Resources and other energy companies have changed the dynamic at Junior Livestock Auction.

“Since Range came on the scene, the dollars have continued to increase,” says Cambruzzi. “They've brought several more buyers out to our fair, which has been important for every kid. Without Range's support, we would not be able to do what we do for kids.”  

This year, Range Resources Appalachia Division Vice President Dennis Degner will be back in the bidder's seat for a second time. Like Walker, Degner understands what it takes for students to make it into the ring. “My background wasn't oil and gas,” says Degner. “I grew up on a farm.  I have a degree in agricultural engineering and before that, I was a national officer in FFA. That experience helped me get where I am today.”  

For Degner, nothing beats actually meeting the kids and their families at the fair.  

“You know, there's a lot of headlines these days about everything that's wrong in the world. But what you see at the Junior Livestock Auction is everything that's going right.  You see these young men and women who have put in a year of hard work. You'll see their manners, you'll see their work ethic, and there's nothing better at the end than having them shake your hand and say thanks for being here to support our community.  It's been our privilege to be a part of this effort over the last decade, and we're looking forward to making more great memories while supporting these students, and this community, in the years ahead.”  


Part 2: Energy Industry Supports Junior Livestock Auction at the Washington County Agricultural Fair

For Washington County's young members of FFA and 4H who have been raising and caring for livestock for several months, this past weekend's Junior Livestock Auction was an opportunity to finally demonstrate their achievements. Some participants were able to show off Grand Champions, for others the experience didn't include a top prize.  But the lessons each young person walked away with: responsibility, commitment, leadership, and pride in a job well-done – will stay with them well into adulthood. 

Walt Bumgarner is the livestock educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension.  He has a long history with both 4-H and FFA, and has been involved with the Washington County Fair since 2006. Locally, Walt also provides outreach and education to leaders of agricultural education programs for young people. He is passionate about importance of the work that he and other “ag” educators are doing at the fair and beyond.  

“Sometimes people think agriculture isn't important anymore,” says Bumgarner. “But agriculture is still the number one business in this state – and in most states.  With our programs, we're not training kids how to be farmers necessarily, but all of our kids will leave knowing something about agriculture, about raising an animal and the importance of it, and the responsibility of it. With an animal project, you are responsible for that animal every day. You've had to feed it. You've had to water it.  If your family went on vacation you had to get someone to come take care of it.  You had to brush it. You had to teach it how to be led.  You can't put it down and step away and come back to it.  It's constant responsibility.”

Range Resources is a long-time supporter of the Fair and Junior Livestock Auction. Over the last ten years, Range and its service company partners have contributed funds and in kind donations that have amounted to over $1 million in support of young people and agricultural programs in Washington County. Range was back at the auction Friday evening and all day Saturday, helping to raise additional funds for FFA and 4H by bidding on livestock animals and then donating them back -- so exhibitors could offer them for sale a second time. This year, Range and its service company partners provided $65,000 in support of livestock auctions; including $100 for every child that participated in the Washington County Junior Livestock Auction.

Months of hard work came to fruition for Alexa Miles of Buffalo Ag 4-H, who showed and auctioned off a lamb, hog and a goat at this year's livestock auction. Alexa spent time caring for her animals before and after school every day. 

“It was tough, I worked so hard, so it is a really proud moment for me,” says Alexa. “But I am looking forward to starting this all over again!” The direct support received from buyers at the livestock auction is reinvested into next year's project by the students. “I've been doing this for six years now, and it gets a little bit easier each year.” 

Range Resources Landman Laura Schimmel was also at the auction with the Range group on Saturday. Laura's job was to keep track of the animals and exhibitors that Range bid on. But before that, she got to know some of the FFA and 4H participants in the days leading up to the auction.  

“I've been volunteering with Range at the Fair for nine years, and specifically at the livestock auction for two years now,” says Schimmel. “So I have a system in place. I take my kids to look at all the animals a few days before the auction.  We see the names of the farms that we pass by every day and that I see on my documents at work, many are landowners I've become familiar with. I get to meet people that I've talked to on the phone but not in person, until I see them at the Fair. And a lot of times you'll also see these beautiful posters over the livestock pens: 'Thank you Range for buying my hog last year', that type of thing – and it's always really nice to see that the kids are so appreciative of what we do.” 

Schimmel admires all of the young people who participate. “It's nerve-wracking for them. They're going out in front of all of their peers, their friends. And they've worked so hard, they're well-mannered, they're thankful. I'm honored to be in the audience with Range and to be able to support the efforts of such a great group of kids.”  

Over the past several years, Bumgarner and his agricultural education collaborators have seen the positive impact that Range Resources and other energy companies have had on the Junior Livestock Auction. “The energy industry has been a great partner,” says Bumgarner. “And we remind the kids to be grateful for that.  We're lucky. We need to be happy and appreciate the support we have from the business community – especially the energy industry. Washington County is the envy of the fairs around Pennsylvania.”


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