Originally Published: May 22, 2018 6:05 a.m.
When business relationships sour, rarely are personal feelings left out of the equation. The break-up between the Yavapai County Fair and the 4-H/Expo is no exception.
In 2015, the Yavapai County Fair returned to the Prescott Rodeo Grounds after 14 years of operation in Prescott Valley. In tandem with the relocation, the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Cooperative Extension in Yavapai County agreed to combine forces with the organizers of the fair — the Yavapai Fair Foundation, Inc. — by hosting its annual 4-H/FFA Expo as part of the fair’s operation.
The three-year agreement outlined shared responsibilities for all that’s required to manage the expo. The fair also tossed in some money and facilities to sweeten the pot, including a $5,000 budget for the purchase of awards, a $1,500 budget for judges, and trash and portable restrooms.
“And, in the end, we provided way more than that,” said Rosalee Darby, General Manager/Chairman of the Yavapai County Fair. “When there was a need, the fair just did it.”
Prior to the three-year agreement’s expiration in 2017, fair organizers offered to renew it, but initially received no response from the expo’s committee, Darby said.
As fair organizers were considering their other options, the expo’s committee struck up a negotiation that ultimately failed.
“While lots of things we tried to compromise on, in the end, we just couldn’t come up with the quality of event that we really thought that we wanted,” said Jeff Schalau, Yavapai County Director for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.
Schalau made clear that it wasn’t his decision to break it off with the Yavapai County Fair. Rather, it was a decision made by the 4-H volunteer leaders who direct the program.
“It was a grassroots movement to say, ‘You know, this working with the fair just isn’t working anymore,’” Schalau said.
Specifically, they believed there wasn’t enough space at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds to host both events at the same time. Additionally, the fair charges parking and admission fees, whereas the 4-H/FFA Expo has historically been free.
“We just decided that Yavapai County Fair has a great event, and we want to be supportive of that, but we also want to have the freedom at our event to have a barbeque and a dance, and allow people to camp out there,” Schalau said.
“That’s the spirit that it was in, in the years prior to when we were combined with the county fair.”
By the end of the discussions, both sides were frustrated with how things unraveled.
For Darby, the decision by the expo committee was disappointing. The partnership with the 4-H/FFA Expo was a means of achieving a major ambition of hers as the fair’s general manager.
“I have a huge passion for youth livestock, and my number one goal is to see youth livestock grow in our county,” Darby said. “We have one of the largest counties in the state, and yet we have one of its smallest fairs. We need to grow that, and that’s our goal.”
For Schalau, the major headache came in the aftermath of the decision when he received calls from members of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors.
The supervisors — especially Jack Smith — were disturbed that the relationship was severed.
And since the county contributes a sizeable chunk of funding to the UA Cooperative Extension every year, their voice was certainly heard by Schalau.
“It’s a controversial topic,” Schalau said.
“There’s some bad feelings out there in the community too. We in 4-H just felt that we needed to have greater control of our event and more space to feature ourselves and we just felt like we didn’t have the freedom to offer the event that we envisioned.”
GOING SEPARATE WAYS
With ties severed, the Yavapai County Fair will be hosting its own youth livestock event starting Sept. 6 with a youth livestock auction on Sept. 8. All members of youth livestock associations, such as 4-H, FFA and FFA Pals, are welcome to participate in the event.
And as they had done for many decades before partnering with the Yavapai County Fair, the organizers of the 4-H/FFA Expo will return to hosting the event by itself. It will take place on the Prescott Rodeo Grounds from Aug. 22-25.
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