KING CITY — The 78th annual Salinas Valley Fair returned after two years of Covid-19 pandemic closures with crowds filling the King City fairgrounds, living up to the theme of “Back in the Saddle.”
While the total number of spectators was not yet available, the four days from May 12 to 15 had gathered thousands of people in all regions, from rides to shows to concerts.
“The turnout blew our minds and we didn’t expect the turnout we got,” said Lauren Hamilton, Acting CEO of the Salinas Valley Fair. “Friday was a busy day. The doors were so crowded that we never saw that. Saturday knocked us out of the water with the number of people coming through the gates.
Whether it’s seeing families return to activities or students coming in to view livestock, Hamilton said it’s been heartening to see the community’s response to the fair from a staff perspective.
The fairgrounds had eight full-time employees and hired an additional 25 part-time employees, along with hundreds of volunteers, to run the fair. They also brought in a new security company and cleaning crew to keep the restrooms hygienic and the grounds free of litter.
Figures for this year’s junior cattle auction were also compiled last Tuesday.
This year’s heritage animal was a red angus crossbred steer named Willie, bred by Wesley Hill.
Hill is president of Salinas High School FFA and plans to attend Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Willie sold for $96 a pound, with an estimated total cost of $125,000.
“I was very proud to be able to do this and very happy that it made a lot of money for the Heritage Foundation,” Hill said.
Hill won a $2,500 scholarship for raising Willie, and the rest of the proceeds from the auction will go to the Heritage Foundation to help pay for improvement projects at the fairgrounds.
“It was a great experience,” Hill said of Willie’s upbringing. “I’ve had it for 11 months, and this is my first year with beef.”
Hill has already spent seven years raising lambs. This year’s show was its first year back to cattle breeding for fairs after the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to major events across the country.
“It’s really nice to be back and to be able to see everyone come out and be able to support all the kids in 4-H and FFA,” Hill said.
This year’s auction had a total of 645 animals on the program.
“The bidding was huge. It was probably close to our biggest auction we’ve ever had,” Hamilton said. “We were slaughtered animals, but the families were amazing. The supporters are great and made sure the kids were well supported.
Auction crowds were on par with pre-pandemic years, with auctions continuing well into the afternoon after starting at 8 a.m.
“I knew people would love to come back because we hadn’t been here in three years,” said junior cattle auction president Cody Bassetti. “It was awesome.”
Bassetti added that he and fairground staff weren’t sure what to expect ahead of Saturday’s auction.
One of the big eye-catchers was a 150-pound market lamb bred by Kyle Walker of Templeton FFA, which sold for $500 a pound. Walker’s Lamb was the penultimate auction held that day.
Additionally, Bassetti said the champion animals also made “a lot of money,” but the totals were still being determined. Hamilton explained that additions will continue throughout May to allow animals to sell for higher amounts, which changes their final numbers after the auction.
“Overall, you couldn’t expect something like this,” Bassetti said.
Bassetti thanked the four auctioneers, 15 clerks, beverage delivery people and about 60 to 70 volunteers for helping the auction run smoothly for its return session.
Hamilton and Bassetti noted that the Heritage Foundation currently has no projects underway at the fair, but will meet shortly after this year’s event to review potential improvements that could be launched.
At carnival, fair goers were lined up to take over the rides and partake in fair food.
“It’s good to get out and meet people,” said Chelsea Crofts, as she finished a run. “The community has been shut down so much recently that it’s nice to have a community event again.”
“Social media and the internet have been a good place to go during the pandemic,” added Justyce Shivener on how young people spent their time during the pandemic instead of events such as the annual fair.
Crofts agreed with Shivener that young adults have tended to hang out with small groups and avoid large gatherings over the past two years.
“It’s nice to see the entertainment and go out and eat and not have to zoom in with friends online,” Hamilton said of the reaction viewers shared with her. “The entire fairgrounds have been inundated with families and people, and it’s just not an empty space.”
Hamilton noted that fairground staff were eager to stage the fair, and this year marked that long-awaited moment they were working towards.
Exhibit halls showcased the advent of digital entrances and speeches, and in-person exhibits were also plentiful. Flower and garden shows were an area that saw a surge in admissions, up to more than 700 this year after a total of more than 500 in 2019.
Flower and Garden Supervisor Kim Schmidt worked with area high schools in Greenfield, King City and Salinas to stimulate participation.
Schmidt said she visited students in classrooms and asked them what they would like to enter, then worked with them to put together projects that met specifications. She noted a table of football players who were reluctant at first, but then came up with the concept of school spirit together, resulting in over 20 entries on this topic.
“They are happy to have fun again and experience the fair,” Hamilton said of the fair attendees. “It’s been two years since they’ve had anything.”
The Fairgrounds near future includes renovating the Expo building with state grant SB-5 money, which will be used to replace floors and update hoops. The renovation will enhance the building as a sporting event center for local schools and athletes, Hamilton explained.
While Hamilton said the fall festival was on the to-do list, staff members were already busy with plans for a slew of weekend events throughout the year. As the pandemic closures eased, she said the fairground was able to book small events from late 2021, and the entire 2022 schedule was booked out in a short time.
Hamilton said it marked a return to normal for the fairgrounds and for guests to be able to hold wedding and quinceañera receptions indoors.
“Our books have been filling up and every weekend we have fairground events,” Hamilton said. “People are so excited to get him back. We are full until the end of December.